PHOTOS: Departed Progressive Conservative Party president Katherine O’Neill (CBC photo). Below: PC Leader Jason Kenney and former leadership candidates from the party’s progressive wing, Sandra Jansen and Steve Khan.

Katherine O’Neill has departed, smiles and warm sentiments all ’round.

Ms. O’Neill was president of the Progressive Conservative Party, the one that newly elected PC Leader Jason Kenney has pledged to dismantle and merge with the Wildrose Party, the better to defeat the Alberta NDP. So you could argue there really wasn’t much left to do for her anyway.

In addition to that, Mr. Kenney seems to have the Harperian quality of wanting to surround himself only with like-minded loyalists, and so there will not be much room for an old-style big-tent Alberta Conservative with progressive leanings as Ms. O’Neill appeared to be.

In that regard, Ms. O’Neill, who was in the job a little shy of a full year, will be far from alone.

As we used to say when we wrote headlines on the copy desk at the Globe and Mail, a newspaper for which Ms. O’Neill also toiled for a spell, “the future is bleak,” in this case for Red Tories, moderate Tories, Tories capable of seeing two sides to an argument, Tories who don’t share Mr. Kenney’s nutty social conservative convictions and, I would wager, most Tories of more than one particular gender, that being the same one as the new leader.

In fairness, nothing like this was said openly in the parting remarks made by Ms. O’Neill, who pledged to remain “a proud Progressive Conservative,” or in Mr. Kenney’s final words of farewell to her.

She: “I have had a very good working relationship with Mr. Kenney since he won. It has been a very respectful collaborative relationship and, for me, I just felt that this was that perfect time as we are just about to really kick up the unity discussions.”

He: “I have had a positive working relationship with Katherine as we have gone through the transition period. I thank her for her kindness, help and good advice.”

Ms. O’Neill’s remarks were made directly to reporters; Mr. Kenney’s in a post on social media, the preferred venue for really serious and high-priority political messages in Conservative circles.

Ms. O’Neill also observed that since Mr. Kenney was very clear about his plan to blow up the party, and got elected leader anyway, “I honour what our members told us to do and I wish everyone luck. … You have to listen to your membership and if they’re telling you that they want to do this, then you at least have to explore it.” You can read what you like into that.

The fact is, as the person responsible for enforcing the PC Party’s leadership contest rules, Ms. O’Neill’s relationship with the rule-breaking Kenney campaign and its imported Wildrose-oriented supporters seemed fraught from the get-go.

When Kenney supporters harassed former PC leadership candidate Sandra Jansen right out of the race for her socially progressive views, for example, Ms. O’Neill had the difficult job of warning the then-front-running candidate to make his troops behave themselves. Ms. Jansen is now an NDP MLA. Stephen Khan, another progressive leadership, candidate quit the race for much the same reason.

The Kenney campaign was also fined $5,000 on Ms. O’Neill’s watch for holding a hospitality suite too close to a leadership voting area.

Such transgressions by a party president were never going to be forgotten or forgiven once the Kenney forces were in power and on their way to remaking the party in their own image.

The prevailing wisdom now is that the internal party administrative leaders formally led by Ms. O’Neill never believed that a campaign mounted by a candidate who openly wanted to destroy the party could succeed, and thus failed mount much of a defence until it was far too late.

I have no idea if this is true or if the party’s key insiders were always conflicted on the idea of a Kenney victory as the most likely route to a conservative restoration in Alberta, no matter how distasteful the agent. But if they did imagine he would be easy to defeat, they were hopelessly naïve and were not paying attention to Mr. Kenney’s formidable talents as an organizer and campaigner, or the ruthlessness of the big-money influencers who back his campaign.

Whatever. Mr. Kenney is the leader now and the PC party – whether this outcome was inevitable or not – is done like dinner as an independent and moderate political entity.

Ms. O’Neill is a capable woman and will doubtless do well in some other endeavour.

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  1. Maybe the NDP should consider renaming itself as the new “Progressive Conservative Party” since it seems to be chanelling Peter Loughheed these days. Or if that doesn’t fly, how about the “Conservative Progressives”?

    In any event here’s what Jason Kenney is watching these days:

  2. I suppose the headline here could be “Another high profile woman” (or moderate) leaves the PC’s. In her parting remarks she seems perhaps less than lukewarm about Kenney’s unite the right idea, so whether she was shown the door or found it herself is a bit of an academic arguement. I suspect the Kenney camp probably either strongly hinted or told her nicely she should go sometime shortly after his victory.

    There will now be an increasing number of political nomads from the PC party looking for a new political home. Some of them bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience, certain ones perhaps more political baggage than another party would want. It will be interesting to see who goes where and what happens.

    An often overlooked fact from the last election was that while Wildrose got a lot more seats and became the official opposition, the PC’s still got more votes, so there may be more potential nomads than people realize wandering the political desert now.

  3. Now that there is an opening for party president. I wonder if Bernard the roughneck who also has a political science degree will try for that position. Or would his having a university degree not sit well with the new leader.?
    While I am on the subject of replacement for the vacancy I wonder what Mr. Jean is going to do if he loses out to Mr. Kenney for the leadership of the new all inclusive far right wing party?

    It could be interesting times.

    1. Dave, all good points.

      I’m betting the next party president will be a man – sausage party and all. Whether that man is Bernie the roughneck or Rob Anders whose a buddy of Kenny is pure speculation at this point.

      Regardless, it will be a man and he will be unimpressive in both personal character and professional competence. That you can be sure of, especially if Kenney has anything to do with it.

    1. Agreed. But why stop there Christine?

      Redford, Klein, Harper, Anders, gone. Good riddance too!

  4. I think O’Neill was ‘played’ – given promises if she overlooked or actively prevented the executive team from dealing with Kenney’s tricks. Surprise – just like Danielle Smith, her rewards were not to be. The powers behind uniting the right and the Wildrose would want one of their team in the position of Conservative Party president. It will be someone with no nostalgia for the PCs so they can dissolve the party as quickly and efficiently as possible. I agree with Athabascan – their pick will very likely be male.

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