Strategist Stephen Carter’s reputation instantly boosts Sandra Jansen’s still-unannounced PC leadership bid

Posted on September 20, 2016, 1:40 am
9 mins

PHOTOS: Political strategist Stephen Carter, who says he’s now advising potential Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Sandra Jansen. Below: Ms. Jansen, who says she’s very close to making a decision on whether to run, and Jason Kenney, so far the only declared candidate in the race.

It must be great to have a reputation so highly polished everyone simply assumes your next project is all but guaranteed to be a contender.

Political rainmaker Stephen Carter – “outspoken political operative,” as the Calgary Herald rather snidely put it – is such a person, whether or not his reputation is entirely deserved.

jansenSo when Mr. Carter told the Herald he’s been “providing assistance and advice” to Calgary North-West Progressive Conservative MLA Sandra Jansen in advance of a possible run for the PC leadership, her credibility among the pundits as a potential Jason Kenney challenger soared immediately.

I have an alternative theory, however, and that is that Mr. Carter’s greatest talent may not be organizing political campaigns so much as picking the right candidates for whom to organize campaigns.

For, let it be said here, Ms. Jansen would be an excellent candidate to lead the Tories whomever happened to be advising her, at least if you happen to think the PCs need to hove to the centre of the political sea if they wish to keep their ship afloat.

A former television new broadcaster known to be progressive on social issues, although not necessarily quite as progressive on economic ones, Ms. Jansen would certainly appeal to a certain kind of urban conservative in Alberta. She is also a former cabinet minister – although it was Alison Redford’s cabinet in which she served, so it is unclear whether that would be an asset or a liability.

On the other hand, if you think the PCs need to swing hard right, especially on the usual social conservative enthusiasms, and that conservatives of any stripe cannot succeed against the Alberta NDP unless they are all united under a single banner, then I guess Mr. Kenney would be your man. Certainly, if he were to win the PC leadership, he would be more appealing to the base of the Opposition Wildrose Party, since as a former Harper Conservative he is essentially a Wildroser himself.

kenneySo if Ms. Jansen decides to run – and she told me last night she is “pretty close to a final decision” – this will mean there’s a real contrast in personal style, political philosophy and outlook on the future of the PC Party between two leading candidates.

It will also make the PC race considerably more interesting, not least because there is no love lost between Ms. Jansen and Mr. Kenney.

Back in June, Ms. Jansen told the CBC that if Mr. Kenney won the leadership, bringing his social conservative baggage with him, “I would leave. I would not be a member of the party any more.”

“Jason has never been a friend of the Progressive Conservative party,” she said at the time. “There’s nothing progressive about Jason Kenney.”

That may account for why Mr. Carter stated his intentions in a podcast with this zinger: “I want to kick the shit out of Jason Kenney.”

For his part, Mr. Kenney has promised to serve whatever leader wins. I heard him say so himself last week in St. Albert, the same night he promised to resign as an MP this Friday. However, in reality, I think Mr. Kenney hanging around a PC Party led by Ms. Jansen is about as likely as Ms. Jansen hanging around a PC Party led by Mr. Kenney.

Mr. Carter apparently decided to cast caution to the wind because another campaign had gotten wind of his discussions with Ms. Jansen and was leaking it all over anyway.

Mr. Carter is, without question, outspoken, and his inclination to say what he thinks on social media has gotten him in trouble more than once.

Named a national campaign strategist for for Hill and Knowlton Strategies in 2012, Mr. Carter’s reputation as a political mastermind – or, as he might put it, a master of “post-partisan politics” – rests principally on three pillars:

  • Former prime minister Joe Clark’s political successes in the federal Calgary Centre riding in the early 2000s
  • Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s successful come-from-behind campaign in 2010
  • Ms. Redford’s unexpected victory in the PC leadership in the fall of 2011 and her subsequent 2012 general election success

There are certainly those in the Nenshi campaign who say Mr. Carter played only a minor role in that effort. Nor have all Carter campaigns have gone down in history as unprecedented successes. But who even remembers Martha Hall Findlay’s 2013 effort to lead the federal Liberals?

Be that as it may, I don’t think anyone can begrudge him his successes for Ms. Redford, in which his role was central, and for whom he served as chief of staff for a short spell after her general election victory. A strategy with which Mr. Carter has been associated is helping catapult second- or third-place candidates into contention through the timely release of a favourable poll.

Whether as some think the PC Party’s complicated new rules were designed to get in the way of a candidate like Mr. Kenney – who essentially wants to lead the party so that he can shut it down and merge it with the Wildrose – is not entirely clear.

The new rules may make a Kenney victory a little less likely, but he is a formidable campaigner, and the idea of a united right has a desperately seductive appeal to conservatives of all stripes who are still shaking their heads in disbelief at the NDP’s 2015 election victory.

So I am not so sure the rules will hinder Mr. Kenney or help a candidate like Ms. Jansen as much as some pundits seem to think.

At least one potential candidate seems to have dropped out as a result of the rule changes. author Dave Cournoyer reported yesterday that Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer has pulled the plug on the idea of running for the PC leadership, citing in a memo to supporters that “I am concerned about the party’s commitment to a fair leadership process. In particular, the rules that have been established have raised some serious concerns that go to the legitimacy of the process.”

CORRECTION: There are, of course, already TWO candidates for the leadership of the PCs, as reported in this space. The second is Donna Kennedy-Glans. Incorrect information inexplicably appeared in a previous version of this post. deeply regrets this embarrassing error, but will plug along regardless. This post also appears on

10 Comments to: Strategist Stephen Carter’s reputation instantly boosts Sandra Jansen’s still-unannounced PC leadership bid

  1. Chris

    September 20th, 2016

    The same podcast on which Carter zinged Kennedy also talked at some length about Donna Kennedy-Glans’s declaration of her candidacy. Has she changed her mind?

    • David Climenhaga

      September 20th, 2016

      No. This was my mistake, the result of writing late at night, knowing *something* was wrong and not being able to put my finger on it. The post has been corrected.

  2. September 20th, 2016

    Stephen Carter worked for federal Liberals and Dave Cournoyer writes: “Sandra Jansen has also been talked about as a voice of the party’s ‘progressive’ wing. She is DESPISED by federal Conservative activists for throwing her support behind two Calgary Liberal Party candidates in the last federal election.” [emphasis added]

    How are these ‘divided loyalties’ going to play in a Unite-the-Right campaign?

    • David Climenhaga

      September 20th, 2016

      You are right, of course. I even reported on it myself. This was my mistake, and mine alone, the result of writing late at night, knowing *something* was wrong when I went to bed, and not being able to put my finger on it. It is no defence that I find Ms. Kennedy-Glans utterly forgettable … that is my problem, obviously, and shouldn’t be hers! The post has been corrected.

  3. Farmer B

    September 20th, 2016

    I hope Sandra Jansen runs and wins the PC leadership. Her center left views will split the progressive vote and do far more harm to the NDP than the Wild Rose. As for Stephen Carter, he brought us Alison Redford! How did that work out? Unfortunately no political party in Alberta is offering the policies required to fix our poor financial outlook. Having said that the Alberta Party has some of the best ideas and from what I have seen so far the NDP the worst.

  4. Tom in Ontario

    September 20th, 2016

    Jason Kenney must be unaware of the Dalton Camp unofficial rule for party leadership hopefuls.
    First in, first out.

    Has Mr. Carter the weaponry to make it happen?

  5. David

    September 20th, 2016

    Ms. Jansen would seem to fit the profile of the type of candidate Stephen Carter has often worked for – centrist or centre right and fairly socially progressive so that could work well. She would also be a strong contrast to Mr. Kenney – it would make the race quite interesting. I think she would also be a strong candidate in her own right, but none of this means she could beat Mr. Kenney.

    First, while she is arguably close to the centre of Alberta’s political spectrum, the PC’s tilt more to the right, so she would be on the left side of the PC party. I think after the Redford debacle, PC’s might be reluctant to elect another leader that is as vocally socially progressive. Second, I am also skeptical about Mr. Carter’s magic. While he did save the PC’s before, they also had the advantage of being in power for many years and facing a somewhat divided opposition. At the time Ms. Redford was able to present herself as a fresh face, before the voters really got to know her and see her in action. While, I don’t think his support will hurt, as he has some good experience and knowledge, I think the legend is a bit bigger than the man.

    I would be very interested to see if someone ideologically in between Ms. Jansen and Mr. Kenney eventually comes forward to run. I could see such a candidate appealing much more to the rank and file PC members than someone on the left or right side of the party.

  6. Mark

    September 21st, 2016

    I take umbrage with the phrase shut down and merge the PC party with the wildrose.

    It is inconsistent. A merger is characterised by two entities coming together. Both or neither, depending how you look at it, are shut down. Not just one is shut down. I think it more accurate to say takeover. Or dissolution. Or even perhaps organisational suicide, because he is proposing nothing less than that.


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