PHOTOS: Stephen Mandel, always a natty dresser, was chosen as the leader of the Alberta Party last night. He was dressed more conservatively than in this old picture, though, which has the advantage of having been taken by your blogger back when Mr. Mandel was Jim Prentice’s unelected health minister. Below: Former Harper Government insider Ian Brodie, now a University of Calgary professor (Photo: Twitter); Alberta Liberal Party Leader David Khan; and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Ian Brodie – chief of staff to Stephen Harper for a spell back in the bleak days the Conservatives ran the country – had some advice for the Alberta Party yesterday, just hours before the party’s members chose former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel as their leader.

To wit: If the Alberta Party wants to win seats in 2019 in what is bound to be a race between Premier Rachel Notley’s New Democrats and Opposition Leader Jason Kenney’s supposedly United Conservatives, they must “campaign against oil,” as the headline writer of Dr. Brodie’s opinion piece on the CBC website accurately summarized his argument.

Or, as Dr. Brodie himself tendentiously put it in the piece published hours before the Alberta Party announced Mr. Mandel’s selection as leader, “if Notley continues her move to the centre on pipelines, there might be room for an ultra-left party in Alberta politics.”

There’s a sly suggestion here that the Alberta NDP is pretty far to the left too. This is nonsense, of course, as is becoming increasingly obvious to ever-larger numbers of Albertans.

What’s more, being on one side or the other of the debate about whether the fossil fuel economy has a future is not really a right- or a left-wing thing, as I am sure Dr. Brodie, nowadays a University of Calgary professor, understands perfectly well. He is, after all, a bright, even erudite, guy, for all that he has served the wrong side of the economic policy argument in a variety of important roles.

The real point of the veteran Conservative political operator’s piece, I would suggest, was to tempt the Alberta Party to take a position that will make it irrelevant in the 2019 Alberta election, thereby improving Mr. Kenney’s chances of defeating the NDP.

Dr. Brodie, by the way, also proffered the same advice to the Alberta Liberals led by David Khan, giving the same reasons. But his main target was clearly the Alberta Party because it is more likely to drain more Red Tory votes from the UCP than Blue Dipper votes from the NDP. This is especially true with Mr. Mandel at the helm, as was expected well in advance of last night’s coronation.

So this argument, coming from this well-placed Conservative source, suggests that notwithstanding the prevailing narrative to the contrary, the UCP and its Ottawa auxiliary over at the Conservative Party of Canada understand perfectly well that a successful Alberta Party under Mr. Mandel would principally threaten them.

It also suggests that they understand the NDP is much more competitive than the current media storyline makes it seem. That narrative, as we have all heard repeatedly, is that the Notley Government’s departure from office is only a matter of when the election is called, a notion Dr. Brodie understandably tries to reinforce in his CBC piece.

Being a smart guy, I’m sure Dr. Brodie also understands that Mr. Mandel is unlikely to take the bait. After all, at 72, Mr. Mandel wasn’t born yesterday. Still, come the campaign, the new Alberta Party leader may try to sound just a little greener than the oil-soaked elite consensus at the Alberta Legislature nowadays.

I confess that, up to now, I’ve thought it pretty unlikely the Alberta Party could even get on the radar, no matter who its members chose as leader. Hitherto, the party has appealed to no one except media, professional pundits and a few people better described as political cultists than political activists.

The fact that a connected Conservative like Dr. Brodie is offering bad advice to the Alberta Party as it tries to transform itself into the new Progressive Conservatives suggests that the strategic minds behind the UCP don’t want that to happen.

We shouldn’t get too excited about this, though. Mr. Mandel won by an impressive 66 per cent … but it was only 66 per cent of an unimpressive 4,613 votes.

Do you remember the days when more than 130,000 Albertans signed up and turned out to choose Ed Stelmach as PC leader and premier in 2006? Or when it was considered a huge comedown that only a few more than 23,000 voted in the 2014 party election that chose the late Jim Prentice as leader after Alison Redford’s catastrophic tenure?

Mr. Mandel is going to have to interest more than 4,613 Albertans to realize the dream of forming an Alberta Party government.

He won’t do that, obviously, by declaring war on the oil industry.

Pharmacare advisory committee a good step, but a tiny one

The pharmacare advisory committee mentioned in the Trudeau Government’s budget yesterday is a positive step forward, but Canada is still a long, long way from having an actual national prescription drug plan.

So it’s incumbent upon pharmacare’s many supporters to keep the pressure on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his ministers to actually implement a prescription drug plan like every other country in the industrialized West except the United States, which is certifiably insane when it comes to the way it organizes health care.

As the Globe and Mail correctly reported yesterday in its coverage of Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s budget, “national pharmacare could represent significant savings for both patients and the government.” These savings are variously estimated from about $5 billion to about $12 billion per year. Alberta alone would save more than $1 billion annually.

It would also, of course, save the lives of many Canadians who must now choose between paying the rent and feeding their children or getting the prescription drugs they require to survive.

A way to save $11 billion a year for taxpayers while ensuring all Canadians can have the pharmaceutical drugs they need if they are ill? A way to reinvest in health care and make a good system better? What’s not to hate about that if you’re a profit-drenched multinational pharmaceutical company, a huge insurance corporation, or an operative for a neoliberal advocacy group like the Fraser Institute or the Canadian Taxpayers Federation?

So count on it that the usual suspects will be lobbying furiously against a national pharmacare plan behind the scenes and in public. Given the Liberals’ past modus operandi, there is a significant chance the party will lose interest in the plan after it wins next federal election.

If we are ever to have pharmacare in Canada, no matter whom we elect, we will have to keep our politicians’ feet to the fire.

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  1. The conservative lamenting and wailing can now safely begin.

    Looks like the 2019 vote-splitting model is now complete. The former PCs have hijacked the Alberta Party and the UCP has hijacked the Wildrose Party — with a hard right-wing option being extended by the new Alberta Advantage Party. It would appear, “It’s déjà vu all over again!” (thanks Yogi)

    As for Stephen Mandel, he was part of a conservative cabal that was set to introduce 59 new taxes and fees along with a Health Care Premium had Jim Prentice been elected premier and his pre-election budget been implemented. Calling someone a moderate, as some right-wing media and political pundits have boasted, simply because they had “Progressive” in front of their party name, doesn’t pass the smell test for any iteration of Alberta conservative these days. In my opinion, Mandel’s record as a conservative cabinet minister under Jim Prentice speaks for itself — utterly dismal.

  2. I really don’t see the Alberta Party gaining allot of traction; possibly if they have actual policy outlined. I think we will see how unpopular he really was at the end of his term as Mayor in Edmonton.

  3. Mandel’s biggest problem? He’s really starting to look his age. By next election he’s going to look like death warmed over on the campaign trail and in debates/townhalls.

    Should the optics matter that much? Probably not in a perfect world. But they do matter and it’s going to be an uphill battle projecting credible energy if it looks like a stumble getting off the stage would require the AP to find a new leader.

    1. I agree, Ryan. I think Stephen Mandel is the wrong choice for so many reasons. Mr. Mandel will be 73 going into the next election; if he manages to win a seat he will be 77 when his term is completed. If the 2019 election produces moderate success, say a dozen seats, it will be the 2023 election that could be the real breakout election for the AP, when Mandel will be asking voters to accept a premier who will be over 80 before the end of his term.

      As well, the AP has a nice little base started in Calgary, and I really think they need to continue building on that. Rick Fraser would have been the best choice. As an incumbent, Mr. Fraser’s chances of getting re-elected are good enough that he might be able to spend some time campaigning provincially. Mr. Mandel, on the other hand, really can’t afford to take his Edmonton seat for granted.

  4. Don’t worry, I think one of the last persons Mandel would take free advice from is one of Harper’s former staff. However, I agree the unsolicited advise does show the UCP is a bit concerned that Mandel might eat into their support among moderate Conservatives, hence the Conservative’s advice – go left, go far left.

    It remains to be seen how successful Mandel will be in his second foray into provincial party politics. He had a bit of a rough go the first time around and the Alberta Party is far from the political vehicle that the PC party once was. He might have gone from a the Cadillac to a VW Beetle.

    The conventional wisdom still generally seems to be the Alberta Party will be at best a spoiler and at worst perhaps not very relevant – third spot is usually not a very great place in the first past the post system. However, a bigger question is spoiler for who? Unlike the career politician Kenney, Mandel had a long career as a successful businessman before he went into politics. While this might not impress the social conservatives who are Kenney’s base, it might register positively with more moderate conservatives, who might prefer someone who has actual financial experience that extends beyond government and right wing lobby groups.

    I am sure the UCP is aware of this particular weakness Kenney has versus Mandel, hence they are so quick to offer the free advise – go left, go far left. I also expect Mandel will ignore that advise, he might not have been as politics as long as Kenney yet, but he wasn’t either as they say born yesterday.

  5. Not sure what Mr. Mandel will campaign on, but I am sure that the Federal Liberals have no intention of implementing a national pharmacare plan. They are only talking about it because they know the NDP will implement such a program and they are trying to lure the votes of the easily fooled progressives who might fall for this idea.

    Want proof? Their idea is only to study a national pharmacare program after which study and being re-elected in 2019 they will quietly forget the whole thing.

    The federal budget is only talking the talk but surely isn’t walking the walk. And they will have no trouble getting the Conservative members support for forgetting the whole thing and continuing to govern for the wealthy and well connected.

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