Uniting the Right: Is Wildrose Leader Brian Jean starting to wonder, ‘With friends like these, who needs enemies?’

Posted on February 10, 2016, 3:04 am
8 mins

PHOTOS: It’s getting crowded on the Wildrose Party’s “unite the right” bandwagon … and not necessarily with the “right” people from leader Brian Jean’s perspective. Actual Alberta political bandwagons may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Alberta Prosperity Fund spokesperson Barry McNamar (grabbed from his Facebook page), Wildrose Leader Brian Jean and former PC justice minister Jonathan Denis.

All of a sudden, Wildrose Leader Brian Jean seems less than enthused by some of the people who are jumping onto his party’s “unite the right” bandwagon.

On Monday, the Alberta Opposition leader sent an email to Wildrose supporters reminding them of his oft-expressed wish to “unite the right people and the right ideas” on the right side of the province’s political spectrum.

McNamarBut it seems as if some of the right-wing people now talking about getting together to try to defeat Alberta’s NDP Government are not necessarily the right people, and don’t necessarily have the right ideas either, in Mr. Jean’s estimation.

“Some organized groups, outside of either the Wildrose or PC grassroots, are trying to commandeer and direct these conversations,” the Wildrose leader said in his email to supporters, as was noted in this space in passing yesterday.

“This misguided attempt to shortcut deliberate, meaningful, and personal conversations between party members has been attempted before,” he said. “It was a disastrous elite-driven top-down ‘unification’ attempt by MLAs that ultimately led to the NDP majority.

“Please do not allow the allure of a short cut, presented by outsiders, to derail what must be a transparent, grassroots-driven process,” Mr. Jean wrote. (Emphasis added.)

What’s going on here? Who is Mr. Jean talking about?

One of the groups at the forefront of the Opposition leader’s mind this week was the so-called Alberta Prosperity Fund, a self-described “Super PAC” announced last November by a former Wildrose fund-raiser named Barry McNamar to finance political activities that are not restricted by Alberta campaign financing laws.

JEAN-JPGFor weeks, the group has been announcing on its Facebook page the establishment of committees to deal with operations and finance, communications, outreach, fund-raising, policy and research, and naming people to serve on them, some of them quite well known in conservative circles.

As of yesterday, Alberta Prosperity Fund and Advocacy Ltd., the non-profit corporation behind the organization, had two registered directors. They are Mr. McNamar, who runs it out of an address in a south Calgary residential suburb, and Calgary resident Samantha Leclerc, who is also Mr. McNamar’s executive assistant in his role as VP of operations for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a Fraser-Institute-style right-wing think tank based in Winnipeg.

The Alberta Prosperity Fund was clearly involved in a meeting that took place later Monday evening in the Calgary bedroom suburb of Cochrane. Mr. Jean had to be aware of that when he mailed out his epistle to the Wildrosers.

According to a CBC report, the Cochrane meeting was led by former Progressive Conservative justice minister Jonathan Denis. Also playing leading roles were Bruce McAllister, a former Wildrose MLA who crossed the floor of the House to join the PCs back in December 2014, and former right-wing talk radio DJ Dave Rutherford, who has been acting as the Alberta Prosperity Fund’s spokesperson.

Now think about this from Mr. Jean’s perspective.

DenisFirst, there’s obviously heavy influence in this new unite-the-right effort by former PCs like Mr. Denis, and for that matter Mr. McAllister.

Clearly, a key goal of Mr. Jean’s version of the unification project is to merge the two parties on the Wildrose Party’s market-fundamentalist terms, and not to be too much influenced by the PCs more pragmatic, centrist traditions, which are anathema to many in the Wildrose base.

Second, some of the people involved are not necessarily the kind who are going to impress voters.

Mr. Denis resigned as justice minister weeks before the May 5, 2015, general election when legal proceedings between himself and his estranged wife became public. On election night he came third in his Calgary-Acadia constituency, beaten by a then-unknown New Democrat, Brandy Payne, who is now associate minister of health. Ms. Payne famously spent $240 on her campaign; Mr. Denis spent $85,000.

Mr. McAllister took part in that “disastrous elite-driven top-down ‘unification’ attempt” fomented by Preston Manning that Mr. Jean was talking about in his letter. He and the others who followed former party leader Danielle Smith into premier Jim Prentice’s PC caucus are still viewed as traitors by many Wildrosers. On May 5, he was defeated in his Chestermere-Rocky View riding east of Calgary by Wildroser Leela Aheer.

Third, like any Canadian political leader, there is no doubt Mr. Jean would prefer small donors in particular who have not reached their legislated maximum contributions give their money directly to his party and not be tempted by competing recipients.

Even with wealthy donors who have maxed out their direct contributions, Mr. Jean should be nervous about a group his party can’t control, and which might come up with ideas that harm the party’s strategy.

In this, his reaction would be no different from those of frustrated Alberta NDP and Liberal leaders when some unions bought advertisements attacking the government in 2006, resulting in the opposite outcome to that they intended, helping premier Ed Stelmach get handily elected in 2008.

Finally, from Mr. Jean’s personal perspective, any merger that isn’t handled just right could result in a wide-open contest to find a leader for the united party – one in which there is no guarantee he would emerge the winner.

To complicate matters from Mr. Jean’s perspective, there are at least two other unite-the-right efforts now being cooked up by former PC Party officials and fund-raisers. It seems that every additional day this effort takes, the more complicated it gets!

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

7 Comments to: Uniting the Right: Is Wildrose Leader Brian Jean starting to wonder, ‘With friends like these, who needs enemies?’

  1. Sam Gunsch

    February 10th, 2016

    re: ‘ still viewed as traitors by many Wildrosers.’

    This seems to me, possibly the key motive for Jean and his advisers around any communications against a top-down approach by outsiders or by him.

    Doing anything or staying silent about anything that even hints at some top-down deal-making is dangerous for any PC/WRP mover or shaker, seems to me.

    Isn’t it wise for Jean’s future, but more importantly for the possibility of getting that WRP base, still pissed off about Danielle/Preston’s move, to ever accept some new unified conservative party, that the WRP base be
    1) given every assurance that any discussions will be transparent and
    2) consulted openly and given ever opportunity to participate along the way?

    Jean or anyone who doesn’t pay attention to this, risks screwing up their whole project by causing that base outraged by the floor-crossing to become more embittered/cynical about conservative leaders…seems to me.

    Not to downplay the other reasons/issues/motives discussed in this post, but given the WRP history, Jean’s communication is a politically necessary assurance of a preventative mode. Lots of distrust out there.

    And to Jean’s credit as a leader, it’s a direct-democracy type of commitment valued by WRP voters, which he’s made as the party leader, worth re-stating to WRP voters.

    Given the WRP-PC history, if I was a WRP voter, I’d appreciate getting repeated assurances like this from Jean that he won’t be silent about anything that smacks of top-down moves, or back-room machinations.

  2. David

    February 10th, 2016

    It took over 10 years for the right to unite federally and I think some Progressive Conservatives were very disappointed with the result.

    While I don’t agree with Brian Jean on much, I do think he is right about this. I don’t think Preston Manning and some conservative business people will be able to force the Alberta PC’s and the Wildrose to unite. The last time they tried, it was a spectacular failure.

    While it is true the Wildrose and the PC’s have some common ideology, there are also big differences between them. Wildrose sees the PC’s as corrupt, less than competent, not conservative enough and controlled by big business. On the other hand the PC’s see Wildrose as too socially conservative, too rural and too extreme. If that is not enough, the fact that Wildrose spent over 7 years trying trying to bring down the PC government has not been and will not be forgotten soon.

    I suppose Preston Manning needs a hobby in his golden years, but perhaps he should try golf instead. He might find it more satisfying and productive.

  3. Dave

    February 10th, 2016

    These guys eat their young.

  4. Chris

    February 10th, 2016

    The PCs got taken to the woodshed by us right-wingers. They apparently have yet to realize this. They need generational change and transformation to clear out the corruption and arrogance, similar to the federal Liberals, not just a four-year time-out. Voters will stay clear of them the longer people like Jonathon Denis hang around stinking up the joint.

  5. jerrymacgp

    February 11th, 2016

    The problem with “unite the right” as a concept, is that there is more than one right wing. There are the corporatist, free-market fundies that are essentially libertarian in their approach to non-economic matters; there are the traditional, noblesse-oblige Red Tories of old; and there are the evangelical social conservatives that want to turn the clock back to the 19th century and thrust the State firmly back into the bedrooms of the nation. There is most certainly some overlap amongst these three broad streams of right wingery, but probably not enough to comfortably form a secure unified party.

    While there are parallel divisions on the left, time constrains me from expanding on that at the moment as I have to go to work lol.

  6. Brian Janz

    February 21st, 2016

    Both McAllister and Denis are quite impressive when you look at their records. McAllister was a good conservative in question period and Denis was a very strong minister through four premiers. Despite the NDP tide, they were only narrowly beat by challengers (McAllister likely would have won had it not been for the idiotic Jamie Lall).

    And Dave, get real, Denis was proven not to have done anything wrong (everything in court thrown out in his favour). Let’s be straight with the facts and not report half truths…

  7. Noah

    February 22nd, 2016

    Bruce McAllister was one of the best MLAs ever elected. He constantly held the PC government to account for their socialist spending.


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