PHOTOS: Stephen Harper, the former prime minister, not exactly as he appeared at the Conservative Party’s Calgary Stampede barbecue Saturday night, but close enough. Below: Jason Kenney, Mr. Harper’s former sidekick in Ottawa, whom the former PM endorsed Saturday as a candidate for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party; Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada; Brian Jean, the Wildrose MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin; former PC MLA Doug Elniski.
As they survey the rubble by the Rideau left by the toxic Stephen Harper Imperium, one wonders if Canada’s federal Conservatives have completely given up on holding power in Ottawa.
This might explain the momentarily clamourous entry of Mr. Harper into the muddy field of Alberta provincial politics Saturday evening at a Calgary Stampede Conservative Party barbecue.
The big news from the normally zipped lips of the former prime minister, who nowadays is so quiet about his decade of power in the nation’s capital we could dub him Silent Steve, was that he actually vocalized his support for Jason Kenney as the putative uniter of Alberta’s right.
“I would ask all Alberta members of the Conservative Party of Canada to join me and work to elect as the next leader of the PC party of Alberta, the Honourable Jason Kenney,” Mr. Harper said before reverting to silence and slipping away into the Prairie night. There were cheers.
Really, it’s no surprise Mr. Harper would endorse Mr. Kenney to oversee the double reverse hostile takeover of the PC Party by a man who is a Wildroser and then of the Wildrose Party by the hijacked PCs, with the new entity eventually to be named the (definitely not progressive) Conservative Party of Alberta.
The two transplanted Ontarians fought side by side in Ottawa to move the country irrevocably to the right, succeeding to an unfortunate degree, and they see Alberta the same way. If Wildrose Leader Brian Jean had to sit there stewing, contemplating the injustice of it all, and Alberta’s centrist PCs are similarly discomfited, well, that’s just too bad for them, isn’t it?
What the remaining Alberta PCs will do, especially the pinkish ones, remains an open question. As former PC MLA Doug Elniski wittily observed in a blog post yesterday, “being endorsed by your old boss, Steven Harper, is kind of like getting a good reference letter as part of a severance deal.”
But if Stage 1 of the takeover scheme succeeds, the only question about Mr. Jean is likely to be whether he goes along with his dignity intact or is frog-marched to the door.
At this point, deprived of power in Edmonton by Rachel Notley’s NDP, I doubt we’ll hear much protest from the erstwhile rugged individualists of the Wildrose Party, who were so furious at Danielle Smith when she tried the same stunt in 2014. They’ll be happy to be steamrolled by the Jason Kenney juggernaut with the help of his friends from Ottawa. The reason is simple: If Mr. Kenney’s plan succeeds, the party that emerges will be Wildrose Version 2.0 in all but name.
At any rate, no one on the right seems to be paying much attention nowadays to the obvious truths that Mr. Kenney isn’t the only potential leader capable of uniting Alberta’s right, and that there’s no reason a single disunited centre-right party couldn’t win with the right campaign, as the PCs proved in 2008 and 2012.
No, what’s interesting now is the way the federal Conservatives are throwing themselves into this provincial fight – which can do their chances no good anywhere else in Canada.
It is true as Mr. Harper said at Saturday’s Stampede bunfest that Alberta (and elsewhere on the Prairies, nowadays, to be fair) is “the beating heart of the Canadian conservative movement,” even if the beat has been a little faint of late.
The Liberal government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as none other than Conrad Black quite rightly conceded on Friday, “straddles fairly stylishly between gestures to the trendy and fashionable cutting leftward edge of its support without grossly offending the solid centre of the country that provides the majority for any Canadian federal government.”
But here in Alberta we have a former Conservative prime minister, who despite being reviled elsewhere enjoys considerable local support, and the current federal Conservative leader, apparently along with the majority of the province’s still overwhelming Conservative federal caucus, rooting openly for Mr. Kenney, who until just days ago was supposed to be the front-runner in the race to be their leader in Ottawa!
Mr. Kenney, federal Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose loyally pitched in, “is the right person to lead this movement forward for the PC Party. I know he is.”
Indeed, it almost looks as if the Conservative Party of Canada is going to allow itself to be taken over by the emerging PC-Wildrose-Reformatory Party if it is led by Mr. Kenney!
Seriously, is this the way the adopted Albertans who have dominated the CPC for a generation and purged most Red Tories from its ranks are reacting to the prospect their federal party might elect a non-Albertan as leader and – quelle horreur! – backslide just a little toward the centre to remain in play?
This sounds like a prescription for an epically unproductive battle with Ottawa, not to mention governments and citizens in most other provinces, that Alberta is unlikely to win.
Whatever else it is, it sure as heck is not a formula for conservatives taking back the federal government.
It is axiomatic a supposedly national party can’t exclusively take the side of a single province without doing itself serious harm. Yet, this seems to be what the current leadership of the CPC is determined to do, and one credible explanation is that they have simply given up on power in Ottawa for a generation.
It might well suit the Trudeau Liberals to have a confrontational Alberta steeped in social conservatism and climate-change denial screeching about “ordered liberty” and “fiscal discipline” to give them a boogeyman to trot out whenever conservatives in other provinces try to mount a challenge.
There are people in the federal NDP, moreover, who would also see such a development as a great Leap forward.
This would not be a good thing for Canada, though, because the country needs a strong voice for that significant minority of Canadians who are genuinely conservative, as opposed to those of us in the majority who would prefer to chart a more progressive course.
Ironically, it could split the Prairie conservative core from the more moderate remnants of the national party elsewhere, once again disuniting the right outside Alberta. But this may no longer matter to the CPC’s current leadership as they retreat into a circle for Harper’s Last Stand in Alberta.
It would certainly be no good thing for Alberta, since such a development would be highly unlikely to deliver the economic or trade benefits many Alberta unite-the-right supporters imagine would follow a Tory Restoration, and would set the stage for our return to the role of national and international environmental pariah.
But there you have it, the husk of a once great national conservative party, taken over by Preston Manning’s Albertans in the Invasion of the Party Snatchers in 2003, deprived of power for only a few months, atavistically and self-destructively devolving into an embittered regional rump. With Stephen Harper and Jason Kenney in the lead.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.