PHOTOS: Former NDP MLA Karen McPherson, who has asked to sit as the Independent representative for her Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill riding (Photo: Bob Hawkesworth). Below: Former United Conservative Party leadership candidate Jeff Callaway (Photo: CBC), the port of Churchill, Man. (Photo:, and Independent MLA Derek Fildebrandt, the UCP’s answer to Lemony Snicket.

There were two political departures in Alberta yesterday, one that will probably be the subject of too much mainstream analysis, and the other that is unlikely to get enough.

The first was the departure from the NDP backbenches of Calgary MLA Karen McPherson to sit an Independent, which will probably get more ink than it deserves because it can be made to fit the prevailing media narrative of the fate and future of Premier Rachel Notley’s government.

The second was the departure of former Wildrose Party president Jeff Callaway from the contest to lead the United Conservative Party, which given the purpose of his candidacy in the first place probably warrants more study than it is likely to get.

Both are likely to spend only a little time on Alberta’s political radar.

Ms. McPherson, MLA for Calgary-Mackay-Nose Hill, was one of the government caucus members from traditionally conservative Calgary elected en masse in the May 5, 2015, general election. She has kept a fairly low profile in caucus and, while her social media announcement yesterday morning she was leaving was unexpected, it did not come as a complete shock to caucus insiders.

At any rate, her decision to go was greeted with a surprising amount of empathy by some NDP MLAs, who seemed to respect her personal feelings even if they were not happy with her decision to quit.

Ms. McPherson didn’t exactly slam Ms. Notley’s government in her published note – “I wish nothing but the best for them” – but expressed her disquiet with the polarized state of Alberta’s provincial politics and gently criticized the government for not having a plan to eliminate the province’s deficit.

Whether such a plan involves the wholesale destruction of public services, as is apparently contemplated by the United Conservative Party, or recognition of the province’s continuing revenue problem in an era of low oil prices, this is a fair observation.

The northwest Calgary MLA’s concerns about polarization, as many observers noted, were not unlike those of former Progressive Conservative and United Conservative Party MLA Rick Fraser, who left the UCP Caucus two weeks ago, also to sit as an Independent, criticizing his last party’s divisive approach to politics and lack of grace and compassion.

Naturally, with five standalone MLAs already in the Legislature, four of them apparently trying to position themselves as a centrist alternative to both the NDP and the UCP, Ms. McPherson’s decision aroused speculation that with her along, any three of Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark, legacy PC MLA Richard Starke, lone Liberal MLA David Swann and the Independent Mr. Fraser they would add up to enough members to achieve official party status if they could overcome their differences.

The odd Independent out is train-wreck “Liberty Conservative” Derek Fildebrandt, the UCP’s answer to Lemony Snicket, sidelined by a Series of Unfortunate Events that included being caught with his taxpayer subsidized apartment for rent on Airbnb, filing erroneous expense claims, and being charged by police with leaving the scene of a minor accident in his pickup truck. A traffic court decision in the latter matter is expected on Dec. 18.

Ms. McPherson’s departure will not make re-election of the NDP easier in Calgary – which is expected to be the key battleground in the Alberta general election expected in 2019.

As for Mr. Callaway, he was pressed into service rather late in the UCP leadership race as stalking horse for front-runner Jason Kenney, the role for which Mr. Fildebrandt was originally intended.

This candidate’s principal job was to level a stream of harsh and embarrassing criticisms at former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean, who is Mr. Kenney’s only serious competition for the job of UCP leader, while the frontrunner stood back from the fray.

In this role, Mr. Callaway performed adequately, and can be expected to continue to do so from the sidelines, but never delivered the entertaining fireworks that had been anticipated from the bombastic Mr. Fildebrandt.

Mr. Callaway had cast himself in the role of the party’s Big Idea Guy, which is a scary thought seeing his biggest idea seemed to be for Alberta to buy the remote and bleak Hudson’s Bay port of Churchill, Man., to be the terminus of an oil pipeline that avoided the inconveniently environmentally energized populations of British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. Never mind that Hudson’s Bay could only be expected to stand in as navigable tidewater most of the time thanks to global climate change, a reality the UCP would be just as happy not to acknowledge.

Mr. Callaway’s departure comes just in time to save his financial benefactors – whomever they may be – the final $37,500 needed to pay off his $95,000 entry fee to the pricey UCP leadership race. Having behaved himself, he expects to get back the $20,000 good-behaviour bond included in the original payment. Predictably, he endorsed Mr. Kenney as he went out the door.

According to the Calgary Herald, Mr. Kenney called Mr. Callaway a man of integrity.

Join the Conversation


    1. The Titanic, which sank in 1912, didn’t have radar, which was invented circa 1940. DJC

  1. Well, one of my observations about the NDP winning the last election was that whatever you think of them, they delivered unto us the death of the 1-party state. News like these tidbits did not exist (even, could not have existed) 10 years ago.

  2. I think Mr. Callaway’s departure is the less significant of the two events and will probably not get much coverage. I believe few took his candidacy that seriously and many looked at him as a proxy for Kenney anyways, likely a last minute replacement for Fildebrandt who was unexpectedly discredited. However, he was really not as effective as Fildebrandt would have been and didn’t seem to be able to get significant support or put forward much of a platform to distinguish him from the other candidates. In some ways the more surprising thing was that he ran in the first place, rather than he left the race before its conclusion.

    However, I suppose a leadership race with four candidates appears more legitimate than three, so this does further diminish the appearance of the UCP party being open. Callaway’s quick endorsement of Kenney also reinforces the impression by many that the leadership contest process is being manipulated by Kenney and the party elite for his and their benefit.

    The departure of the NDP MLA is more remarkable as this is the first to occur for the NDP and there is a message about moderation vs. extremism that the larger parties can not ignore. I believe voters in the next election will reject the party they perceive to be more extreme. Unfortunately for Kenney, he does not want to be moderate and even if he did, given his past record it would hard for him to be convincing in that regard. Therefore, I believe he will just continue to try portray his main political opponents as extreme too. His ultimate political success may depend on how successful he is in getting moderate/centrist voters to buy that message.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.