PHOTOS: “That group of NDP activists was this big!” Jason Kenney is shown at the launch of his campaign to spring a kudatah on the Progressive Conservative Party in this CBC photo grabbed from the Internet. Actually, I have no idea what Mr. Kenney was saying when the CBC photographer snapped the picture. Below: Stephen Harper, former prime minister of Canada and now a self-declared progressive conservative (Stuart William photo, from Flickr), former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, and George Clark, all known for their efforts trying to engineer takeovers of political parties.
So let me get this straight: Stephen Harper, the former Conservative prime minister of Canada, has now joined the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party so that he can encourage members of the Wildrose Party to do the same thing, so that they can all elect Jason Kenney, who can then destroy the PC Party?
Have I got that about right?
Mr. Harper even wrote a fund-raising letter for Mr. Kenney, who, back in the day, used to be one of his senior cabinet ministers in Ottawa when the federal Conservatives – who disdained progressive conservatives, calling them Red Tories* or, after Margaret Thatcher, “wets” – were in government and bent on changing Canada so much we wouldn’t even recognize it.
“If you are a Wildrose member, you can still purchase a PC Alberta membership to vote for Jason Kenney and his plan for conservative unity,” Mr. Harper enthused in his epistle to dwellers of the Wildrose wilderness.
“Many of my friends hold a membership in both parties today, just as they did when we merged the federal PC Party and Canadian Alliance,” Mr. Harper went on cheerfully, referring to the hostile reverse takeover of the federal PCs by the Canadian Reform Alliance party back in 2003.
For his part, Mr. Kenney was extremely enthusiastic about his former boss’s pitch. “It sends a strong message,” mainstream media quoted Mr. Kenney saying with similar enthusiasm. “He knows what he’s talking about and I think his voice will be respected.”
OK, now let’s just hold it right there for a second. Freeze! Isn’t this the same Jason Kenney who just hours ago was complaining about how crazy New Democrat radicals were infiltrating the PC party, buying memberships just to knock him off?
I’m not making this up!
“You can see on social media, activists from the left, many of them NDP supporters, are proudly announcing that they’re buying Conservative Party memberships in order to vote against my candidacy in the PC leadership,” he told a Calgary talk radio station’s listeners, prompting general hilarity on social media.
Well, there might have been a Tweet or two, but the general consensus among the Twitterati was that while all new members who want to join the Conservatives to take part in their leadership race are welcome, some are more welcome than others.
Mr. Kenney doubled down on his message with the CBC, telling the national broadcaster in an email that “radical NDP activists” are behind the effort to knock him off, just as “tens of thousands of NDP activists signed up as PC members” to vote for Alison Redford in 2011.
There are tens of thousands of NDP activists in Alberta? Well, no wonder they won the election in May 2015!
Well, it’s easy to understand Mr. Kenney’s effort to unite the right against a common enemy, since the people who are complaining the loudest about his quite extreme social conservative views and his plan to wreck the PC Party are mainly, of course, old-style Progressive Conservatives. Not a few unhappy Wildrosers are waiting for their part in his plan as well, not least among them Leader Brian Jean.
As for the NDP, they actually still cast members into outer darkness – or at least its social democratic equivalent – if they are caught joining other political parties. That’s an oddity here in Alberta where for years the PC leadership contest was thought to be the only election in the province where a voter could actually influence the future of the place. But it makes them unlikely plotters to overwhelm the PC Party’s membership committee with tens of thousands of infiltrators.
I would say, though, there is a deeper reason for Mr. Kenney’s fears, and that is what we know about the behaviour of his own supporters.
Indeed, his blame-the-Dippers strategy sounds to me a lot like a case of simple transference.
As reported in this space before, three times since December 2014, conservatives in Alberta are known to have tried to subvert the normal democratic process by what amount to stealthy palace coups to destroy or take over another political party.
First, there was the attempt orchestrated by former Reform Party leader Preston Manning in December 2014 to push the Wildrose Opposition led by Danielle Smith into premier Jim Prentice’s governing Progressive Conservative caucus.
Second, came the ham-handed effort by Rosehip Tea Party agitator George Clark’s rightward fringe of the province’s conservative movement to first join and then take over the NDP before its annual general meeting, a plot that came to be mockingly known as the #Kudatah as a result of the spelling difficulty experienced by one of Mr. Clark’s supporters. This actually happened, although it did not fare well.
Third was the attempt last spring to involve supporters of Alberta Can’t Wait, a unite-the-right group associated with Mr. Manning, to pack the Alberta Party’s AGM with new members, take over the party, and grab its valuable name as spoils of ideological war.
And each of these three coup attempts, of course, was highly reminiscent of the way many of the same people engineered the takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada by the Reform Party, renamed the Alliance, back in 2003.
And now Mr. Kenney, one of Mr. Harper’s key Ottawa lieutenants, proposes to do the same thing twice, first to the PCs, and then to the Wildrose.
As I argued last summer, this is an actual modus operandi that speaks to a serious level of contempt for the democratic process.
But I suppose we can see why Mr. Kenney – who is right at the heart of the latest takeover plots – would suspect other, more ethical practitioners of politics of getting up to the same sort of thing.
* This expression dates to the days when Reds were, you know, Reds, not Republicans. This post also appears on Rabble.ca.