PHOTOS: The race is on and it looks like … “a dangerous leader.” (Old horseracing print with that title found on the Internet, artist unknown.) Below: Would-be United Conservative Party leaders Brian Jean, Jason Kenney, Doug Schweitzer and Derek Fildebrandt.

Calling an effort to merge two large mammals into a single beast “a horserace” may not be a concept that comfortably bears much scrutiny, but horseracing metaphors are an irresistible temptation to political journalists.

Accordingly, with voting scheduled to commence this week, the campaign to unite the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties into a single United Conservative Party is inevitably now being described as entering the final stretch, the backstretch and the like – despite the fact the leaders of both parties are supporting the merger and a yes vote should therefore be a slam-dunk.

Voting by members of the Progressive Conservative Party, which until the election of Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP Government in May 2015 ruled Alberta for 44 years from a big, billowing, mostly moderate tent without having to work very hard to do so, begins tomorrow and runs through until Saturday.

With the party now under the leadership of Jason Kenney – an unrepentant paleo-social-conservative red baiter – apparently little need was seen to restrict the time allowed for voting. Indeed, the party even extended the time to register to vote. But why not? By now, most of the party’s progressively inclined members have been defenestrated by Mr. Kenney’s unpleasant supporters.

The Wildrosers – whose party was set up in the mid-Naughts during the PC premiership of the Ed Stelmach partly as a radical social conservative and market fundamentalist reaction to that premier’s moderately inclusive and progressive instincts – may be a potentially tougher nut to crack, even though Mr. Kenney is pretty clearly a Wildroser at heart. This may explain why potentially rebellious Wildrosers will be allowed to vote only on Saturday.

All this has resulted in the peculiar spectacle of Mr. Kenney and Mr. Jean – who are also the best known contenders to lead the “United Conservative Party,” as the still non-existent merged party is apparently to be called – each taking positions most often associated with the other’s party.

Mr. Kenney, as is well known, has staked out territory associated with the Alberta conservative movement’s most virulent base. In addition to his paleo social conservatism, as evidenced by his hostile views on gay-straight alliances in schools and longstanding opposition to women’s reproductive rights, he has taken to assailing critics who ask inconvenient questions as “communists.”

In other words, Mr. Kenney has already taken on the intolerant and hysterical colouration associated by so many Albertans with the Wildrose Party – which was one of the reasons voters turned to Ms. Notley’s New Democrats when they finally decided collectively in the spring of 2015 it was time to hand the long-in-the-tooth PCs their walking papers.

Mr. Jean has responded by seeming to channel Mr. Stelmach, which is unquestionably a surprising development. As reported in this space a week ago, he has started showing up in unexpected places like union barbecues and LBGTQ events. If you doubted it when you read it here, it’s now crystal clear that Mr. Jean’s strategy to avoid being crushed by the Kenney juggernaut is to try to paint himself as the sensible moderate candidate of the Alberta right, steering a course that hews much closer to the middle of the metaphorical road.

Speaking through the staccato medium of Postmedia’s Rick Bell, the Calgary political columnist previously known as “The Dinger,” Mr. Jean made this startling (for a Wildrose leader) statement: “Gone are the days when hard-right governments are going to be successful in Alberta.”

He went on: “I don’t think that’s where most Albertans are. I think most Albertans want a common sense, middle-of-the-road government.”

He insisted that, if he is premier, Albertans will feel “as little pain as possible” from any budget moves he makes. “We can’t be radical about it. We can’t go firing thousands of teachers and nurses. It’s just not acceptable.”

This may strain credulity a bit, given the Wildrose Party’s historical fanaticism about balancing budgets and some aspects of Mr. Jean’s own Parliamentary voting record as a Tory MP. Still, it is an effort to show a little light between his policies and those advocated by Mr. Kenney, and by Derek Fildebrandt, the Wildrose Party’s finance critic and another self-declared candidate to lead the UCP. I find it hard to believe, though, that this will be a winning leadership strategy with the Wildrose crowd and what’s left of the PCs.

Mr. Fildebrandt, founder of the Reagan-Goldwater Society at Carleton University during his student days in his native Ottawa, has set upon hard economic market fundamentalism, union bashing and commie baiting, without Mr. Kenney’s gay bashing and anti-abortion inclinations, as a strategy. In other words, Maxime Bernier with worse manners.

Unlike Mr. Jean and even Mr. Kenney, Mr. Fildebrandt explicitly and enthusiastically promises pain – presumably guessing that his supporters will relish the idea, as long as they think someone else is going to feel it.

There’s at least one other UCP leadership candidate, Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, who once campaigned for Jim Prentice when he was running for the PC leadership. Once the new party actually exists, of course, more could come out of the woodwork.

However, if for some reason the unity vote by members of either party fails, expect a spell of absolute mayhem on the right, which has been predicting for two years that only by merging can they defeat the NDP.

If that sounds too much like a country song – “here comes Pride up the backstretch … and the winner loses all” – expect a completely new and different horserace narrative to be immediately introduced in that unlikely event.

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  1. I would absolutely LMFAO if either party fails to get a majority yes vote, especially the Wildrose Party. This merger of the two conservative parties I Alberta is nothing more than Preston Manning trying to fulfill his father’s dream of “political realignment” that Ernest Manning came up with in the 1960’s when the federal Social Credit Party was decimated Western Canada by the PC Party of John Diefenbaker in the election of 1958. The dream was briefly successful from 2006 until 2015 when Stephen Harper was leader and PM but cracked when the party rolled the dice on xenephobic, barbaric cultural practices hotlines and stripping Canadians of their citizenships if they disagreed with their interpretations of Canadian Values. The Social Conservative, Evangelical Christian, White Boys of Privilege know that this is their last chance to to get back into power in the so called province of conservatism in next provincial election to be held in 2019. The next election started for these boys on May 6 2015.

  2. i guess it doesn’t matter much who would lead UCP.
    NDP unwisely have wasted once-a-lifetime chance to establish own footprint in Alberta as reliable political force to be elected and re-elected in the nearest observable future.
    as for “albertans will feel as little pain as possible” it’s a total BS. financial harm without any sustainable roll back plan already was done and it’s gonna take many years of pain for albertans to return their previous stable prosperity, if it possible at all.

    1. You’re right. It doesn’t matter who leads the Unite the White party since these losers will be ineffective opposition members anyway.

      It’s unlikely reasonably intelligent Albertans will buy in to Kenney’s unseemly hateful an divisive rhetoric.

  3. We do live in interesting times.

    Lorne Gunter of the Sun has also commented on Brian Jean’s shift to the centre, although rather derisively.

    The real irony is that while Jason Kenney has more appeal to the hard right that seems to be the bulk of the You See Pee, and hence is perhaps the most favoured to win the leadership, the option Brian Jean is offering is the more electable one in a general election.

    If the UCP does come to fruition, another wrinkle in our interesting times is the vow some Wildrosers have made to form a new party. Is it a real possibility or just hot air? If it did come to fruition, it brings up a mental image of 2 extreme right parties, especially if Jason Kenney prevails as leader of the UCP. One also has to wonder if Derek Fildebrandt would run for the leadership of Wildrose 2.0, even though he tainted himself by running for the UCP.

    Finally, what is up with Jason Kenney’s impolitic ways? Has his internal polling shown he has no chance of winning either the leadership or a general election so he is trying to make Brian Jean or Doug Schweitzer look good? Or are we just seeing the real Jason Kenney that Stephen Harper managed to muzzle for so many years? I am wondering if I should be less critical of Mr. Harper’s muzzling!

  4. Ah, Communists. I well remember Tommy Douglas’s wonderful fable, Mouseland:

    Presently there came along one little mouse who had an idea. My friends, watch out for the little fellow with an idea. And he said to the other mice, “Look fellows, why do we keep on electing a government made up of cats? Why don’t we elect a government made up of mice?” “Oh,” they said, “he’s a Bolshevik. Lock him up!” So they put him in jail.

  5. This predicted slam-dunk merger has all the makings of a Frankenparty borne out of wedlock — scary as hell.

    I have to secretly and perversely admit I’m looking forward to the leadership campaign for the UCP. Albertans who have not witnessed a political Armageddon are in for a rude awakening when Kenney is pitted against Jean, Fildebrandt, Schweitzer and any other UPC leadership hopeful that has the maniacal desire on being the party’s top honcho.

    This will be a campaign where backstabbing meets sleaze and dog whistle and wedge politics collide, with truth being the first casualty of the campaign. Just ‘good ole Alberta boys goin’ at it’ leaving nothing in their wake that will ever convince progressive Albertans that the “alt-right” is the new right for them.

    1. This so-called UPC leadership campaign is sure to disappoint anyone who follows it.

      That’s because like it or not Kenney will take over the UPC, by hooks or by crooks. I’m betting the latter.

      Fildebrandt, Jean, and whatever other supposed contenders will all fall in line and kiss Kenney’s ring.

      It is inevitable, and that’s why it’ll be disappointing. A better use of time would be watching a paint dry.

  6. I think there may be enough reluctant or dubious Wildrosers to derail the UCP movement. However, that does not mean there may not be another attempt to cooperate or merge.

    Kenney seems a bit overconfident in his hard right swing, which may play well to many in the groups he is pitching to now, but may not resonate so well with the general public. One of the main rationales of uniting the PCs and the Wildrose was to create a more moderate seeming party than Wildrose that would be more acceptable to the general public. Jean seems to understand the general public wants something more moderate, Kenney either doesn’t or doesn’t care.

    I know part of the rationale for uniting is also to eliminate options, so UCP can say to Albertan’s you have no real choice but us. If we are too right wing, too bad. However, it was that sort of over confidence and arrogance that in part led to the PC’s downfall a few years ago. It may not always be evident, but in politics there are usually other options to having a bitter pill forced on you.

    I still think a number of Wildrosers will conclude they would be better off with what they have now than some unknown compromise combination with the still somewhat toxic PC’s. Most polls have shown them in a strong position and I doubt they really feel they need the PC’s with all the baggage and compromises that would entail.

  7. Personally I believe the PC party will vote for the merger but I do not believe the Wildrose will get 75% approval. As for the predicted pain of a Wildrose or PC or UPC government, I believe regardless of who is in power after 2019 Alberta will never be as prosperous as in the past and the future pain will either be in the form of minor government rollbacks in spending and taxation or in the form of continued uncontrolled spending and more increases in taxation including a sales tax. The die has been cast!!

    1. Look at the bright side… if Alberta never recovers, she might finally get some equalization. ☺

  8. Books of Interest:

    We should all be wary of Mr Jean’s newfound moderation. Given Alberta’s one-trick-pony approach to government revenues, balancing the budget during a period of record low oil & gas prices could only be accomplished by massive slashing of public services, much like what we endured during the Ralph Klein era of the mid-90s.

    Right-wing politicians, pundits and commentators are always going on about “cutting waste” when talking about ways to reduce government spending. When you parse these ideas carefully, though, you quickly learn that there are two definitions of “waste” in public spending.

    The first involves genuine lack of responsible stewardship of public funds: contracts let without proper competitive bids, expenses paid without proper substantiation or outside of established guidelines, and so on. Every government, of whatever political stripe, takes flak on such transgressions, usually around the time of annual reports of jurisdictional Auditors-General; this is inevitable, because government bureaucracies are creations of imperfect human beings, and no such creation can ever be perfect. However, in the vast majority of such cases, this kind of “waste” involves a mere rounding error in terms of the size and scope of the budget of a modern government in the developed world. Even if you could eliminate 100% of such “waste”, you wouldn’t put any appreciable dent in the deficit. It’d be like going into a junkyard with a ball peen hammer, and banging out one small ding from a totalled vehicle before it goes into the crusher.

    It’s the second definition of “waste” that we need to be wary of: any spending on government programmes that are not consistent with the ideology of the Opposition party. Programmes to reduce energy consumption or lift people out of poverty, or to address social determinants of health as an approach to limiting demand on our overstressed health care system, have been assailed by those on the right as “wasteful social engineering experiments”, or words to that effect.

    Privatization is another approach to “waste”, which hands off responsibility for public spending to the private sector, thereby making the government’s books look better (on the surface). Of course, the need to ensure a profit for the private vendor or contractor means that either the costs of labour and other inputs need to be lower, or the cost of the contract to the taxpayer needs to be higher, than if it remained in the public sector.

    Make no mistake: Brian Jean is no less conservative than Jason Kenney, Derek Fildebrandt, or any of their other fellow travellers. He is simply doing a better job of applying lipstick to the pig.

    1. Hey, wait a minute!

      There’s no need to insult pigs. What have they ever done to you?

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