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Stephen Mandel, Jason Kenney and the Messiah Strategy Alberta conservatives are confident will save their bacon

Posted on January 15, 2018, 1:21 am
10 mins

PHOTOS: Alberta’s latest would-be conservative leader, as seen by party insiders and supporters. (Actually, it’s Bonaparte. Alberta conservative leaders may not appear exactly imagined by Jacques-Louis David.) Below: Would-be Tory messiahs Stephen Mandel and the late Jim Prentice, and Jason Kenney. Below them: Alberta Premier Rachel Notley.

Stephen Mandel, former mayor of Edmonton and a former Progressive Conservative cabinet minister, launched his campaign to lead the Alberta Party last week.

Presumably the sales pitch behind Mr. Mandel’s campaign is that if Alberta Party members choose him, he’ll turn their party into Progressive Conservatives 2.0 and restore the political dynasty Peter Lougheed built to its rightful place atop Alberta.

In this, professional pundits (conservatives almost to a man plus the occasional woman) are treating Mr. Mandel’s campaign just as they treated Jason Kenney’s successful campaign last year to lead the Progressive Conservatives 1.0 and convert it into the Wildrose Party 2.0, otherwise known as the United Conservative Party.

Arguably, this is also the same thing the same people were up to when they concluded, back in 2014, that Jim Prentice was the man to solve all the problems of the province’s conservative movement and ensure survival of Tory rule in Edmonton for another generation.

Is it just me, or is there a pattern developing here?

As soon as “severely normal” Albertans started dropping hints they’d had enough of the “most conservative province in Canada” being run by Capital-C Conservatives, supporters of Alberta’s various conservatively inclined parties started investing themselves in the idea they could find a messiah who would set everything instantly right again.

This urge became pronounced once Albertans made their sentiments absolutely clear on May 5, 2015, by electing a majority NDP Government, something hitherto assumed by everyone to be simply impossible. Quickly thereafter, the conservative consensus was that such a special man was required to restore God to His Heaven and the Tory regime to the Legislature. (And it’s always a man, isn’t it?)

You can’t just blame Rachel Notley for upsetting the Tory applecart, by the way. Despite her abundant political talents, Alberta voters did it all by themselves. What’s more, notwithstanding the self-serving conservative notion the NDP is an “accidental government,” the conservative credibility problem had been building for a while.

Finding Tory leaders wasn’t always a messiah search, of course. The PCs weren’t looking for a messiah when they chose Ed Stelmach, who beat the frontrunners in 2006 to lead the party. But then, in those days, it was simply assumed the PCs were forever.

When Mr. Stelmach quit in 2011, they weren’t looking for a messiah so much as a pair of experienced hands on the tiller – hands that belonged to Gary Mar, a former Klein era cabinet minister favoured by party insiders and caucus members.

But as they had with Mr. Stelmach in 2006, PC members – at least the not-necessarily-aligned Albertans they invited to temporarily join their party to help pick their new leader – chose Alison Redford instead.

Ms. Redford campaigned for the PC leadership as a progressive, and since in those more innocent times choosing the PC leader was supposed to be the true expression of real democracy in Alberta politics since everything afterward was assumed to be a foregone conclusion, we can see now that Albertans’ growing fatigue with conservatism was a key part of her unexpectedly successful leadership strategy.

In 2012, despite an unpromising start to the provincial election campaign in which they were given the choice of the supposedly progressive Ms. Redford and the clearly more conservative Danielle Smith, voters did the same thing a second time and opted again for the more progressive choice.

Alas, Ms. Redford – who had demons of her own as well as a rebellious, dissatisfied and male-dominated caucus that hadn’t supported her from the get-go – turned out to be a catastrophe for her party. This was a lost opportunity for Alberta, as she was the brightest premier we may ever have had. It just goes to show, unfortunately, that brains don’t necessarily translate into political intelligence.

As an aside, Ms. Smith seems to have had similar problems with her caucus, which she said later led to her decision to cross the floor with some of her Wildrose MLAs and join Mr. Prentice’s PCs. That calculation also turned out to have unintended consequences, though whether it can be solely credited for the NDP showing Mr. Prentice the door is a matter of opinion.

At any rate – after Dave Hancock held things together for the few months to let the PCs go through the democratic motions – Mr. Prentice (Born in South Porcupine, Ont., raised in Alberta, and come back via the banking industry of Central Canada and the Conservative Cabinet in Ottawa) accepted a messianic mantle and confidently started polishing the Tories up to their previous lustre.

We all know what happened next. Given the choice in the general election of 2015, Alberta voters chose the most progressive option for the third time.

In response, the conservative establishment – astonished, appalled, disbelieving –turned to another would-be messiah to restore their comfortable assumptions and what they see as their rightful place.

This time they chose Mr. Kenney (Ontario born, Saskatchewan raised, and so long an insider of the now-smoke-free backrooms of Ottawa as a Calgary MP that it evidently still seems to him as if it’s the Nineties here in Alberta).

Now that Mr. Kenney’s charm is wearing thin in some conservative quarters – although not enough just yet, perhaps, to thwart his ambitions were an election called tomorrow – Mr. Mandel (born in Ontario, but leastways a certifiable Alberta political operator for many years) is getting similar reviews.

There’s something charming about the faith of Alberta’s conservatives and their media echo chamber have nowadays in the leader (usually from Ontario) that’s always about to emerge to save them, and by extension us, from the overstated dangers of budget deficits and for the dubious joys of fiscal austerity and unrestrained excess in the office towers of Calgary.

Accordingly, when Mr. Mandel mounted the rostrum in an Edmonton community centre he mouthed a few platitudes suggesting he’s less ideological and less partisan than everyone else in the game, and therefore just the man to bring us all together. This, it should be noted, was the Alberta Party’s annoying conceit long before Mr. Mandel and his shadowy advisors chose it as a convenient vector for his undimmed ambitions.

Mr. Mandel’s assumption is obviously that he’s still a big enough name for Albertans to get over their recent disillusionment with the PCs and propel the Alberta Party as Progressive Conservatives 2.0 to big things in 2019, when the next general election is expected.

It is not yet clear whether his ultimate strategic goal is for the Alberta Party to actually form a government or merely create the conditions for a coalition, perhaps followed by a reverse hostile counter-takeover, this time by PCs of the UCP, only with better branding.

That goal may depend on whether the Alberta Party is able to take more votes from the NDP or the UCP, which as yet seems unclear.

Regardless, in the event of a timely ascension by Mr. Mandel to the leadership of the Alberta Party, this time we will have two Tory messiahs competing with one another other, as well as a genuinely progressive premier of considerable political talent.

It says something about Rachel Notley that her grip on the imaginations of Albertans is such it provokes this response by her conservative adversaries.

The narrative you will read in the mainstream media, naturally, will be that Ms. Notley and the NDP are doomed either way. This might be true, of course, but it is less certain than conservatives want you to think.

Because why? Well, as we have already seen three times, because Albertans!

18 Comments to: Stephen Mandel, Jason Kenney and the Messiah Strategy Alberta conservatives are confident will save their bacon

  1. TENET

    January 15th, 2018

    You skillfully eviscerated to boy’s club and you also make it clear that they cling to idolatry. If we let them be boys maybe they finally stop trying to drag Alberta back to its dark ages.

    You did a respectful summary of the Redford reign. I was also drawn to find some compassion for her amidst the demons under the dome and her personal struggles. Even the “brightest” can not fend off the male assassins in the dark recesses of the Leg. As a parent of a child with disabilities, I often draw attention to her outstanding contribution ($) for AISH recipients -a lasting testimony of her conscience and humanity.

    Mahatma Ghandi imortalized, “The measure of a society is found in how they treat their weakest and most helpless citizens. At least two popes, a PM, and the Kennedy’s along with the Obama’s have paraphrased the same. Redford showed us her stuff and got it done amidst adversity and hostility.

    Premier Notley is advocating for pipelines, refineries, high finance, infrastructure, health, and education. She triumphs tirelessly. She is as brilliant as she is balanced.

    The coming budget: People with disabilities are by their nature patient and kind, but those of us who love them and advocate for them have nearly exhausted our spirit, our resources, and our patience.

    This spring our funding Phoenix must rise out of AISHS and the soul of social democrats must champion the Henson Trust as first-order and Government sponsored. The spirits of Grant and Bruce Notley in consort with Rachel’s maternal instincts will help guide our Premier and her members.

    We who love deeply and advocate tirelessly must also believe that tomorrow has promise. We are inspired by J. S. Woodsworth’s pledge: “We pledge ourselves to united effort in establishing on the earth an era of justice, truth, and love.”

    Reply
  2. Dick Johnson

    January 15th, 2018

    Martyr, not messiah.
    AKA Scapegoat.

    Reply
  3. Farmer Brian

    January 15th, 2018

    If you look on Wikipedia under NDP I find this quote very illuminating, “The federal and provincial(or territorial) level NDPs are fully integrated, and have shared membership.” The reason I bring this up is last week Naomi Klein was standing on a podium in New York City talking about her fossil fuel divestment campaign and about New York taking 5 oil companies to court. The reason I bring this up David, is your always trying to sell how centrist and moderate our Premier is. Last time I looked our Premier was still a member and supporter of the NDP. And last time I looked Naomi Klein and her husband Avi Lewis were also members and supporters of the same NDP. I have no doubt many progressives would agree with Naomi Klein, I am not one of them. Those on the left always accuse people like Jason Kenney of having a hidden agenda, what is the hidden agenda of the NDP?(hint, look at the policies of the NDP’s socialist caucus) Enjoy your day

    Reply
    • Sam Gunsch

      January 16th, 2018

      Farmer Brian… your sources of news are apparently too limited… It seems you missed Notley aggressively repudiating even just a review of the Leap document at the federal NDP convention in Edmonton. She’s constantly been blasting against any federal NDP move to question oilsands pipelines. She gave a series of speeches this fall/winter hammering on anyone, including federal NDP leaders, or any NDP supporters for any lack of full support of AB pipelines and for any criticism of AB’s NDP climate plan.

      Keep in mind, I’m a strong supporter of the NDP. They are the closest we’ve had in government to Lougheed, who I idolized. But Lougheed was in many policies to the left of the NDP and much harder in negotiating for citizens against the industry attacks on his royalty raising policies.

      Kevin Taft and other political observers are writing that the Notley NDP has been effectively captured by the petro-industry just like the PCs were. Hell, just consider this… Stelmach struck a royalty committee, not infested with oil supporters, that said AB’s were getting ripped off on royalties. In the converse, Notley NDP strikes a royalty committee with energy insiders/supporters dominating it and her committee says AB can’t charge any higher royalties.

      Does that sound like Notley NDP have a anti-industry agenda? They actually acted like the PCs have since Klein, like they were suffering Stockholm syndrome and identifying with our petro-industry captors.

      The AB NDP also did not follow thru on their agenda of reviewing the Alberta Energy Regulator’s dual mandate of 1) development and 2) protection/enforcement re the energy industry. This happened within months of being elected. Total capitulation to an industry captured regulator situation created by the PCs under Ron Liepert’s leadership.

      What I’m pointing out is that the actual AB NDP has an industry loving record just the the opposite of what you imply.

      Just in the last few months the AB NDP announced $440M of the carbon levy already is going back to industry as grants to help the industry innovate for lower emissions.

      They are sticking with the expensive cost to taxpayers of a sweetheart deal that Stelmach/Redford committed us to for the diesel refinery in the Industrial Heartland that Ted Morton keeps railing against as huge financial boondoggle/gift for the industry.

      The 100MT cap on oil/oilsands industry GHG emissions basically makes room for any and all projects already approved. It’s a bloody gift to industry. Canada’s climate plan can’t be achieved with that cap, unless the rest of Canada cuts! their emissions by 50%.

      The climate plan levy system because it’s ‘output based’ actually gives credits back to the best low GHGs oilsands operators. Positive financial incentives! for oilsands. The climate plan gives money back to industry for progress on reducing GHGs. Read that again. Let that sink in.

      If the AB NDP do anything more for the petro-industry, the ordinary observer is going to have to conclude that the AB NDP is a zombie party who’s brains have been taken over by a PC/UCP-like virus.

      good grief… get out of your information bubble.

      Reply
      • January 19th, 2018

        Beautifully done….and essentially bang on. The wonderful thing about some conservatives, is that there is absolutely nothing the NDP could actually DO…that would change their ideologically drivien opinions….so it becomes a comedy of errors to hear them complain about all the things Rachel is doing to hamper recovery in tar sands oil rich Alberta.

        It would be funny if it weren’t so dumb….as well as being a bit scary. I too am an NDP supporter, but university educated, and a lifelong reader of interesting non fiction. Climate change is real and you are right. The plans our government has put in place so far do nothing much to lower our emissions. Saying you’ve put a cap on production is meaningless if the cap is so high we’d have to extract and ship like madmen to exceed it.

        But here’s the rub. Twenty-four years of one party rule, does not astute social democrats make. Or clever UCPs either. Talking points and memes and dog whistle tempests in teacups…those it might produce. But an electorate savvy enough to ‘get’ what you seem to see clearly?

        Not so much.

        P.S. Reading Naomic Klein’s new book No is Not Enough right now. Agree or disagee with that young woman…any Canadian should be proud to count her one of us. Period.

        Reply
    • Magda

      January 16th, 2018

      Name one elected NDP premier who was ever bound to the federal NDP in terms of policy or actions. Show your work. Take your time and write legibly; this will count for 20% of your final mark.

      Reply
      • January 19th, 2018

        Again, is it just me, or ‘does reality have a left wing bias”? LOL. LIke math, it may be hard for some.

        Reply
    • Magda

      January 16th, 2018

      Name one NDP premier who felt bound by federal NDP policies or positions as they ran their provincial government. Show your work. This will count for 20% of your final mark.

      Reply
  4. Comrade Fact Checker

    January 15th, 2018

    Actually, neither Jim Prentice nor Jason Kenney were born out west — they were born in Ontario, South Porcupine and Oakville, respectively. Come on Dave, I respect your writing and your contribution to political discourse in Alberta, but sometimes you let your bluster get the best of you when you’re writing.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      January 15th, 2018

      Thanks, Comrade. I know that, actually. No one should allow me to post blogs after midnight, especially when taking care of three busy little dogs. That’s my excuse, and I’m stickin’ to it. Anyway, when else can I do it? It’s been fixed.

      Reply
  5. Ian Hunt

    January 15th, 2018

    Having watched this game of musical chaire for more years than I care to remember I’m getting so so tired and just want to pull the covers over my head.

    Reply
  6. AD

    January 15th, 2018

    Great article.
    Can we please fix the typo in the headline, i.e. “JaNson Kenney”? Thank you! 🙂

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      January 15th, 2018

      Fixed. Thanks. DJC

      Reply
  7. David

    January 15th, 2018

    I don’t think Kenney anticipated someone like Mandel taking a run at the Alberta Party leadership. While it is unlikely the Alberta Party will eclipse the UCP, it is also not impossible. Yes, Mandel’s initial appeal may be geographically limited and the Alberta Party is at least so far a pale imitation of the the PC machine that ruled Alberta for so long. However, I think one of two things will likely happen. One is enough moderate former PC’s across Alberta and wary of Kenney will embrace Mandel, in which case he will suddenly and perhaps unexpectedly become a big threat to Kenney or two he will not catch fire province wide and the Alberta Party will remain a minor player and be not much of a threat to anyone. In any event, I can’t see the Alberta Party gaining much momentum in Edmonton, if voters here think it is unlikely the Alberta Party will be able to beat Kenney.

    While I am sure Kenney will try dismiss Mandel as a Liberal in disguise and that may satisfy his more right wing supporters, Mandel might still appeal to more moderate conservatives. First of all his Alberta roots are stronger than Kenney’s, who spent most of the last two decades in Ottawa. Second, he has actual business experience, he is not just a career politician like Kenney and third he has stronger ties to the former PC party than Kenney does.

    It may turn out to have been a strategic mistake for Kenney to so casually dismiss and discard the former PC movers and shakers. They are still a fairly well connected and powerful group. If the UCP only tries to be the next version of Wildrose, it risks becoming a rural rump in the next election just as Wildrose was in the last several elections.

    In any event, most of the voters Mandel is trying to attract voted for the PC’s in the last election not the NDP. I think he knows that, even if some in the media do not yet realize it. Of course, the problem is were are not enough PC voters in 2015 to win, so it is still a long shot. However, there may be enough to ruin Kenney’s party.

    Reply
    • Farmer Dave

      January 15th, 2018

      Jason Kenney and he UCP seem to attract and embrace those lake of fire types. The Reform, Alliance, Wildrose (old Social Credit Party) were never able to gain any traction in Alberta or Canada because people seen them for what they were. So they started highjacking other political parties to disguise themselves like the Saskatchewan Party under Brad Wall, the Liberal Party in B.C. under Christy Clark and the Federal Conservative Party under Stephen Harper (controlled by the Manning Centre and the Tax Payers Federation, no one knows what they really do or what good they provide), getting rid of good MP’s like Peter MacKay and Scott Brison from the original PC Party. Looks like Alberta voters are starting to see the UCP for what they are and what type of people they attract. I suspect the next election will be between the NDP and the Alberta Party pending who wins the Alberta Party leadership or unless Calgary voter loose their minds and vote UCP.

      Reply
  8. Sassy

    January 15th, 2018

    I think Mandel is just for show. Because of his age, I don’t believe the backroom boys really want or intend him to win the leadership.

    A bit off topic and trivial, but I’m starting to wonder about the future of one of the three Alberta Party MLAs – Karen McPherson. I’m probably reading too much into it, but I thought the story on CBC about her recent fright in Hawaii (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/karen-mcpherson-hawaii-1.4486727) had some “messages”: McPherson can afford to vacation in Hawaii; she panicked with the missile alert; rather than seek shelter, she chose to waken her female friend, get in a car and drive to high ground. I don’t have a problem with any of this. Who knows what any of us might do in the same situation? Some Albertans, however, might disapprove. The news story never mentions McPherson’s party, only that she is a MLA from Calgary. The old photo attached to the story shows McPherson with a large NDP sign behind her. Did a biased editor want McPherson’s actions associated with the NDP?

    Reply
  9. Jim

    January 17th, 2018

    I would be more inclined to think Kenney thinks it’s the fifties maybe early sixties in Alberta. Gather around the radio folks…

    Should the Alberta party become a viable alternative the choice of social conservative Kenney will prove to be a huge mistake. Albertans are largely in the centre a little to the left socially and a little to the right economically. Someone so extreme will have a hard time moving people. It’s hard to have a big tent when the leader is so far to one extreme.

    Reply
  10. Chris

    January 18th, 2018

    Where is this mythical lengendary mass of “centrist” Albertans? I’m constantly being told: “You just wait.” Wait for the PC leadership race. Wait for the PC-Wildrose merger. Wait for the Calgary Southwest by-election. Wait for the Alberta Party Leadership race. Wait for the UCP Founding Convention. Wait for the 2019 Provincial election. You just wait and see those masses of progressive-conservative-liberal-centrists destroy the right-wing forever. I suspect I’ll be waiting for a long time.

    Reply

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