PHOTOS: Rick Fraser in a screenshot from the Legislature of Alberta. Below: Legislative loners Greg Clark, David Swann and Richard Starke, Calgary MP Kent Hehr, and environmentalist and former Green Party candidate Chris Turner.

Let’s cut to the chase about what Calgary MLA Rick Fraser’s decision to quit the United Conservative Party really means.

Mr. Fraser, the MLA for Calgary-South East once appointed to associate cabinet portfolios in Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservative government, Tweeted out a diplomatic and positive letter to his constituents yesterday saying he plans to sit as an Independent for now, and consult them about what he should do next.

The focus of his letter was on the divisive approach taken to Alberta politics by the UCP – now and, presumably, in the future once it’s chosen a leader from the four candidates in the running for the job. Media coverage picked up on this in one sense: his message that he thinks the current UCP emphasis on partisanship and attacks on the NDP regardless of the merits of their policies is not necessarily good thing.

But you need to dig a little deeper to get to the real nuggets:

“I believe that social issues need to be talked about and as leaders in the community we need to exemplify openness, strong communication, listen when no one else is, show grace and compassion,” wrote the former paramedic. “The greatest quality of a leader should be the ability to bring all types of people in the community together. We as leaders should be defending those who can’t defend themselves – full stop!” (Emphasis added.)

He’s talking, it seems very likely, about the takeover of the UCP by social conservative thinking straight from the Wildrose Party. He’s saying without quite stating it, it seems to me, that he won’t be part of a party that makes homophobia a core value. (That said, in 2014, Mr. Fraser voted against a motion by then Liberal MLA Kent Hehr calling for legislation to allow gay-straight alliances in schools.)

“We need to foster new technology and business in all sectors of our economy as if it were our own business,” Mr. Fraser went on, channeling Peter Lougheed. “If we choose to market only one part of our economy we are choosing to lose out on a more resilient economy in the future.

“I’m not a climatologist, or a hydrologist, but I do care about our climate and our natural resources, including our water. We should do what we can to protect our environment without wholesale sacrificing our economy.”

He’s talking about the capture of our democratic institutions – and in particular the main conservative party, the UCP – by corporate interests. He’s talking, as is Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP, about the need to diversify the economy away from an industry whose most profitable days are in the past, whether we like it or nor.

And he’s saying, clearly and importantly, that he can’t sit in the Legislative caucus of a party committed to institutional climate change denial.

So Mr. Fraser’s courageous step is not just about partisanship between increasingly tribal voting blocs, it’s about what’s gone wrong in the conservative movement since the hostile reverse takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party by the Wildrose Party.

It’s courageous because one of the defining traits of the Republicanized Canadian conservative movement is the desire to destroy anyone who has a different opinion from the leadership cadre.

The timing of Mr. Fraser’s announcement is interesting. Perhaps he was disheartened by the tone and direction of Wednesday night’s first UCP leadership “debate,” in which all four candidates vowed to scrap the NDP’s climate policies, cut taxes and give the fossil fuel industry whatever it wants as soon as it wants it.

Frontrunner Jason Kenney, by all accounts, was particularly bellicose – almost as if he were a former minister in the federal government hungry for revenge against the federal Liberals for defeating his beloved Stephen Harper with votes from provinces other than Alberta. Now there’s a foundation for running a province!

Disagreements? There were precious few among Mr. Kenney, who is a former Ottawa insider and briefly leader of the PC Party but a Wildroser at heart and by habit, former Wildrose leader Brian Jean, former Wildrose Party President Jeff Calloway, and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer, a former PC who is making up for it by trying to out-Wildrose the others by advocating harsh economic policies.

Mr. Fraser’s principled departure from the UCP Caucus leaves the Alberta Legislature in the unusual position of hosting five standalone MLAs. In addition to Mr. Fraser, there are:

  • Greg Clark, MLA for Calgary-Elbow, leader of the Alberta Party and its sole MLA
  • Derek Fildebrandt, MLA for Strathmore-Brooks, a UCP Caucus member in all but name, suffering through a spell as an Independent on a legislative timeout chair for his various shenanigans, most famously including renting out his taxpayer-subsidized Edmonton apartment on Airbnb while claiming expenses for it
  • Richard Starke, MLA for Vermilion-Lloydminster and former candidate to lead the PCs, who sits stubbornly as the Legislature’s sole remaining PC, presumably for similar reasons to Mr. Fraser’s
  • David Swann, MLA for Calgary-Mountain View and former leader of the Alberta Liberals, the party’s only MLA

Chris Turner book talks of bridging oil and environment – a political manifesto?

Speaking of new political beginnings, is Calgary environmentalist, author and former Green Party federal candidate Chris Turner eyeing a return to politics?

Mr. Turner has recently published a book called The Patch: The People, Pipelines and Politics of the Oil Sands, which is generating some buzz in media. The theme, according to the CBC, is that “the debate around the oilsands needs to land somewhere closer to the middle,” where Mr. Turner apparently believes most Canadians can be found.

In other words, he’s looking for a way to bridge concerns about keeping Alberta’s one-note economy functioning and concerns here and in other provinces about the troubling state of its environment.

In 2012, Mr. Turner ran for the Green Party of Canada and gave a credible performance in the by-election in Calgary Centre that saw the election of Conservative Joan Crockatt. The by-election was called when Conservative MP Lee Richardson quit to become then PC premier Alison Redford’s principal secretary.

The Liberal candidate, Harvey Locke, was like Mr. Turner a well-known environmentalist.

On election day, Ms. Crockatt won by a plurality of only 1,200 votes in an election in which her opponents split between the Liberal and the Greens. Turnout was less than 30 per cent.

Before the October 2015 federal general election, the Liberals did their homework and recruited Kent Hehr, the popular and capable former Alberta Liberal MLA. Mr. Turner chose not to run and the Greens fielded a much less compelling candidate.

After Mr. Hehr won, Ms. Crockatt preposterously blamed foreign influence, specifically that of foreign environmental groups, for her defeat. Mr. Hehr is now the minister of sport and persons with disabilities in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet.

Perhaps Mr. Turner sees some role for himself in political evolution of Alberta as the decline of oil – and the inevitable corresponding decline in the influence of the petroleum industry – begins to settle in.

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  1. If true, Mr. Turner would most likely run in Calgary-Mountainview, Mr. Swann’s baliwick. Mr. Khan has his work cut out for him in Calgary-Buffalo, where he faces an incumbent cabinet minister and a hard-charging Alberta Party candidate in Omar Massood who has already been door-knocking and building up a sizeable campaign team.

    Fraser was a late adopter to the UCP, and I think he did so reluctantly. His riding overlaps with Jason Kenney’s former federal riding. My take is that he was asked to “take one for the team” and refused. McIver or Gotfried would be the other alternatives and they’re on the Kenney bandwagon.

    Alberta Party may likely be where Fraser ends up.

    1. Alberta Party was my thought as well, Edwin. I don’t, however, think anyone asked Mr. Fraser to take one for the team as Jason Kenney has not won the leadership yet. Since Brian Jean has a Fort McMurray riding there would be no point alienating a sitting MLA if it isn’t necessary. That’s not to say Mr. Fraser didn’t see the writing on the wall, however. Personally I can’t see Jason Kenney sticking around if he does not win the leadership.

      The Alberta Party could be very interesting in the next election as centrist/moderate conservatives look for a new home with like minded people (i.e. people who have all their teeth, do not have a transmission in their bathtub and have curtains in their house, not their truck). It isn’t difficult to imagine the AP holding the balance of power in a minority government. If so, which way would they lean? The UCP may live to regret the way they treated the people who ultimately defected.

      Greg Clark has already said he thinks a sales tax is a good idea, but he did so quite a while ago before Hurricane Kenney caused all his uproar, and I haven’t heard about him saying much about it lately. I wonder what Mr. Clark’s position, and his party’s, will be, now that he has an improved chance of actually winning several seats. No doubt the UCP will start hounding them on that issue if their polling shows the Alberta Party is a threat.

      Interesting times.

      1. Bob I generally enjoy your posts and one small part of your post highlights what is wrong with the NDP. In referring to moderate conservatives as ” people who have all their teeth, do not have a transmission in their bathtub and have curtains in their house not their truck”, you of course infer that those who support the UCP are uneducated hillbillies. I started supporting the Wildrose party back probably about the same time the conservatives ramped up their spending near the end of Ralph’s tenure. I supported fiscal prudence then just as I support it today. I personally take offence to how you characterize Wildrose supporters but having said that I do hope the NDP and it supporters continue to think this way as the cultural divide will continue to widen. Enjoy your day:-)

  2. This current UCP wannabe leadership cabal, masquerading as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, obviously sent an Orwellian political chill through Fraser after he viewed the first of the five leadership debates.

    What compassionate Albertan can stand idly by and mercilessly be party to the planned evisceration of public services and public sector jobs as a means of solely reducing government expenditures? What principled Albertan can stand idly by and watch the daily erosion of political discourse in Alberta degenerate into vitriolic, vacuous fearmongering and name calling? Not the likes of Sandra Jansen, Richard Starke or Rick Fraser apparently.

    Based on recent dispirited UCP events, the question everyone must be asking now is — who’s next to leave the politically bankrupt and morally-challenged UCP? Any guesses?

  3. The great danger, if Jason Kenney wins the UCP leadership race, is that he’ll implement Stephen Harper’s leadership style. He’ll surround himself with a cadre of young stormtroopers, usually clean cut twenty-something ideologues culled from the ranks of Canadian Taxpayers Association or other such organizations while the grizzled veteran MLA’s will be shunted to te sidelines, told to sit down, shut up and follow orders.

    This whole debate around the decline of oil and the evolution towards green technology got me thinking. This would make a great drama series, such as the kind the CBC puts out once in awhile. The main character would be one of those oil barons, a mover and a shaker in Calgary’s oil patch. A guy who picks up the phone and announces a meeting with a provincial minister to discuss a little hiccup in the regulatition process that “needs streamlining.”

    His father was in the oil business. His sons followed him into the oil business. Slice his veins and oil comes gushing out. But then one day his yougest daugther brings home her newest boyfriend -a bearded hipster-type who’s happens to be in the solar power business and everything hits the fan. You get the picture. The drama will explore the changing political landscape with the oil industry desperately trying to hold its grip on power and privledge.

    1. Sound like an Alberta oil sands version of The Sopranos. Jason Kenney can be Paulie Walnuts (although he does remind me more of Vito Spatafore).

  4. To paraphrase an old saying to lose someone is unfortunate, to lose three people (Jansen, Strarke and now Fraser) is quite careless. There is a current cockiness about the UCP, a sense that now they are united soon Alberta’s natural governing conservatives will be back in power and all will be well in their political world, so they don’t need to compromise or reach out to progressives or centrists. However, this newer version of the Conservative party has a distinctly right ward tilt that is troubling to many former PC’s, including the 3 MLA’s (that is 1/3 of the former PC caucus) that have left since Kenney arrived on the scene. Perhaps the UCP is not so united after all, but just the Wildrose party with a new name.

    It should be even more concerning to the UCP that two of these MLA’s who left are from Calgary, a city they need to win if they want to become the government. In particular, Mr. Frasers’s constituency is exactly the type of urban/suburban one the UCP must win if they want to get into power. I think the close of nominations for UCP leadership candidates was the last straw for some moderate PC’s like Mr. Fraser, when it became clear the UCP will not be a moderate party in any way. I suspect the selection of leaders (I doubt it will be more socially moderate sounding Schweitzer) may lead other PC’s to think about going elsewhere.

    It may have felt satisfying to the base and some others in the UCP debate to hear Kenney to threaten to cut off oil supplies to BC over the pipeline issue. However, being on the ocean it would not be difficult to bring in oil from elsewhere, to temporarily offset any shortage from Alberta. Doing this would only increase animosity on this issue in BC and alternative routes are already being developed so that gas from northern BC does not need to go through Alberta. Shutting of the pipelines does not work so well in the current time of surplus of supply as in a time of shortage or crisis, like during the Lougheed years.

    Albertans are not anti-environmental, in fact somewhat the opposite. Most Albertans greatly appreciate the wilderness and unspoiled nature, but are also quite concerned about the economic impacts of being more environmental. The politician that can convince us we can be more environmental and show how it can be done in a way that it will not hurt, perhaps even benefit the economy, will do well in places like Mr. Fraser’s constituency.

    This is a time when Alberta needs calm and determined adult leadership to carefully guide us through the challenging times when the world is becoming more concerned about environmental issues and oil is losing its dominance. Huffing, puffing and threats that easily end up being exposed as empty will not benefit Alberta in the long run.

    1. Lady Bracknell: To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

      The Importance of Being Ernest, Oscar Wilde.

  5. Glad for Rick Fraser to have the common sense to escape the duplex before it is consumed from the flames from the lake of fire. After attending Doug Schweitzer’s campaign rally in Edmonton on Thursday evening I talked to a former PC member last night who was in favor of unity with the Wilrose Party, and now he is having doubts about this new party. Well yeah, I told him so during the PC leadership campaign. This new UCP party is financially, policy, and morally bankrupt. After Jason Kenney wins the leadership through mudslinging and skuldugery, the great purge will begin of centrist and moderates from the the Party. Jason Kenney will welcome back Derrick Fildebrandt and will appoint him as his henchman to carry out his dirty work. The first victim will be Brian Jean and then Doug Schweitzer.

  6. My concern with the UCP is that they set the bar for contesting leadership far beyond any grass roots member and during their amalgamation allowed two votes for ten dollars, effectively gerrymandering the creation of their party. What kind of foundation have they built by such crass manipulations? They’re obviously not grass roots and obviously ethically challenged out of the gate. Who in heavens name would vote for that?

  7. Grass roots. That is a joke. This party was designed for two reasons. First was to get lots of former Conservatives back to what they perceive is their rightfull spot…in the trough of Government power.

    Second was to get Kenney in place so he could be the empty suit spokesperson whipping the locals into a frenzy.

    Rick Fraser did the right thing. He followed his conscience instead of his wallet.

    Our MPP, Dave Rodney, has hooked up with Jason Kenney. That is the biggest reason why we do not intend voting for him as we have done on several other occasions when we lived in his riding.

    1. “Our MPP” Brett, your Ontarioness is showing!

      I’m sorry to hear Dave Rodney has hooked up with Jason Kenney. I always thought Rodney was a Red Tory.

      1. Incredible. We have not lived in Ontario since 1978 and then only for four and a half years. The rest has been in the west…..thankfully and to our good fortune.

        Must be too much NP and Globe.

        Don’t know what Rodney is other than when we first moved to his riding all the bumph seemed to be about his climbing Mt. Everest.

        Seems to us that he was simply a yes vote in the Legislature for years. Definately a career politician. I guess he stuck his finger in the air and felt that the wind, and his future, was blowing toward Kenney.

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