PHOTOS: Former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney looks like he’s describing how he’ll capture the Alberta PC Party, then the Wildrose, and unite them whether they like it or not, in this shot grabbed from his Parliamentary Flickr account. Below: Rick Orman, Rob Anders, Thomas Lukaszuk and Brian Jean.
Jason Kenney, putative leader of the double reverse hostile takeover planned for the Progressive Conservative Party and then the Wildrose Party, will make his big announcement tomorrow.
So Albertans have now been reliably informed by the National Post, which along with the various editions of Postmedia’s Alberta Frankenpaper acts as Mr. Kenney’s informal press agent.
The CBC chimed in later to say they’ve confirmed it, adding hilariously that the announcement “would come just before the Calgary Stampede, a key cultural and political event in Alberta.” (Emphasis added for humorous effect.)
But as soon as former prime minister Stephen Harper’s former lieutenant told a meeting of some of his friends in the Calgary suburb of Cochrane last week that they should “stay tuned” for big news, and that together they were “Rachel Notley’s worst nightmare,” it seemed inevitable Mr. Kenney was about to announce his plan to execute Stage 1 of the complicated plot, resigning as an MP and running for the PC Party’s leadership this fall and winter.
So we’ll have to wait a long while yet before we hear from the lips of Mr. Kenney anything like Britquit politico Boris Johnson’s impeccably timed Brexit-exit: “Well, I must tell you, my friends … you who have waited faithfully for the punch-line of this speech … that having consulted colleagues … and in view of the circumstances in Parliament … I have concluded … that person cannot be me!”
Nope, we’re going to get the full political Monty from the first self-declared worst nightmare for the left since former Alberta finance minister and PC leadership candidate Ted Morton described himself as “every liberal’s nightmare – a right-winger with a PhD.” In other words, Mr. Kenney has decided that person will be him.
Well, nightmare though he may be, at least no one will accuse Mr. Kenney, still the MP for Calgary Midnapore and also a former Canadian Taxpayers Federation operative, of having anything like PhD!
Last week’s Cochrane meeting was held in the local Legion’s beer parlour before a crowd that even the Postmedia reporter on the scene couldn’t resist pointing out was made up of “mostly white, middle-aged supporters.” Or, as Mr. Kenney described them, channeling the late Ralph Klein, who didn’t particularly like him, “severely normal Albertans,” which of course is meant to draw attention to what they are not.
The meeting was organized by a group awkwardly called Albertans Can’t Wait, reported various places to have been set up a number of heavyweight Alberta conservative insiders including lobbyist Hal Danchilla, former PC leadership candidate and oilman turned lobbyist Rick Orman and former Klein media strategist Thompson MacDonald, although the news reports made no mention of any of those three having been at the Cochrane meeting.
Also involved in the ACW effort, and also apparently not at the meeting, was Preston Manning himself, the former Reform Party leader often called the godfather of the Canadian right.
At the meeting was radio personality, former Wildrose leader and sometime Progressive Conservative backbencher Danielle Smith. Along with former PC premier Jim Prentice, she was the last person to try the unite-the-right bullet trick – over the objections of Mr. Prentice’s caucus and her party’s general membership.
There’s no doubt that December 2014 floor-crossing disaster – openly fomented by Mr. Manning – played a significant role in the election of the NDP in the May 5, 2015, general election.
In addition to a couple of undistinguished serving Tory MPs from rural Alberta, another big name at the Cochrane meeting was Canada’s former “Worst MP” himself, Rob Anders. A noted gun nut, extreme social conservative and union hater, Mr. Anders is best known for falling asleep in Parliament as the cameras rolled and opposing honorary Canadian citizenship for the late South African leader Nelson Mandela. Not long before the last federal election, he got to be too much even for his former mentor, Mr. Harper, and was left without a nomination.
Back in the days when Mr. Manning’s Reform Party made its long march to Opposition in Ottawa, Mr. Kenney and Mr. Anders made up two thirds of what was then known as the “Snack Pack,” a trio of young right-wing politicians completed by Edmonton Strathcona MP Rahim Jaffer. Mr. Jaffer, declared by an Ottawa political publication to be “Canada’s Laziest MP,” became embroiled in a national controversy in 2010 after his electoral defeat by the NDP when he was arrested for drunk driving and cocaine possession, and later spotted in a Toronto restaurant with some dubious companions.
As a historical aside, the Snack Pack – so known, as the Wilkipedia gently put it, “due to their relative youth and girth” – was nearly a quartet, and would likely have included well-known video blogger Ezra Levant had Mr. Harper not decided he wanted the riding Mr. Levant had staked out for himself.
Mr. Kenney’s stalking horse in the days after the idea of a PC run was first floated was none other than Tom Flanagan, former confidante of Mr. Manning and ex-prime-minister Stephen Harper, and then not.
One can only speculate about the roles in a Tory Restoration Alberta Mr. Kenney might have in mind for the likes of Dr. Flanagan and Messrs. Anders, Jaffer and Levant!
Notwithstanding natural resistance among the Wildrose rank and file to insider scheming reminiscent of the 44-year PC dynasty, and in PC circles to a vocal Wildrose supporter like Mr. Kenney frog-marching their big-tent party into the neoliberal Borg Hive, this is a formidable and powerful group that anyone interested in Alberta politics needs to take seriously.
Former PC ministers and potential candidates may threaten to quit the party if Mr. Kenney leads it, as Sandra Jansen did, or call for Mr. Kenney’s PC membership to be revoked, as Thomas Lukaszuk did. Wildrose Leader Brain Jean may be none too happy, and many of his party’s members may view these developments with feelings of suspicion and betrayal.
Still, the prospect of another term with the NDP in charge may have concentrated the minds of the province’s right enough to give Mr. Kenney’s ambitions and his well-connected friends a hope for the main chance.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.