Brian Jean, former Opposition leader and unsuccessful contender to lead United Conservative Party, quits Alberta politics

Posted on March 06, 2018, 1:22 am
7 mins

PHOTOS: Brian Jean, when he was still running for the leadership of the United Conservative Party in 2017. Below: Mr. Jean feeling the love during the race to lead the UCP, and as he would probably like his political career to be remembered. (The second and third photos were grabbed from Mr. Jean’s Facebook page.)

Brian Jean – once the leader of the Opposition and arguably the man who saved the conservative movement in Alberta from self-immolation in 2014 and 2015 – quit politics for good yesterday.

This is the second time in his political career that Mr. Jean has quit politics forever, so don’t necessarily write the guy off completely.

Perhaps Mr. Jean will rise a third time as mayor of Fort McMurray just in time to reinvent it as a spaceport or a planetary centre of excellence for solar energy. I’m not entirely joking about this, even if I’m not entirely serious.

Mr. Jean had some of the essential qualities that make a successful political leader, among them personal charm and a vision of where he wanted to take his party and his own political career.

Alas, after being chosen 11th hour leader of the Wildrose Party with 55 per cent of the vote in March 2015, he proved he didn’t have them all. He lacked both the ruthlessness and what we used to call stick-to-itiveness essential to being a winner in the game of politics, which he must have known is played with the elbows up.

Jason Kenney, who lacks neither of those qualities, schooled his former Harper Government caucus mate in the hard realities of politics during the race to lead the United Conservative Party last year.

Mr. Jean also lacked the force of personality required to keep caucus rebels like Derek Fildebrandt under control, especially when the Wildrose Party’s nutty libertarian fringe screamed at him for trying to make the rebel MLA behave. Mr. Kenney proved he could handle that challenge too last month when Mr. Fildebrandt got in trouble with the law of the land and the law of politics one too many times.

Likewise, it was Mr. Kenney, not Mr. Jean, who enjoyed the support of their boss in their Ottawa days, the still-influential former Conservative prime minster Stephen Harper.

When the UCP leadership race was over, it didn’t matter that the former Member of Parliament for the Athabasca and Fort McMurray-Athabasca ridings brought the Wildrose Party back from the brink in 2014, after former leader Danielle Smith had tried to lead it lemming-like into Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservative government caucus, or that he’d prevented the party from being crushed utterly in the provincial election of 2015, which could have happened.

Indeed, it lived to fight again as the UCP thanks in large part to Mr. Jean’s energetic campaigning – which was marred principally by Albertans’ infatuation with Rachel Notley and her New Democrats and by his own wooden television performance, a potentially fatal flaw in this digital era.

Still, the result of the May 2015 Alberta election was none too shabby for the Wildrosers when you consider the party was on the eve of destruction when Mr. Jean reconsidered his rather mysterious decision in January 2014 to quit his once-promising federal political career and get back into politics.

Had the planets lined up a little more favourably for the scion of one of Fort McMurray’s most successful families, he could easily have been premier of Alberta, later, if not sooner.

But the ruthless, focused and well-connected Mr. Kenney put paid to that dream. It was obvious from the get-go Mr. Jean stood no chance against the Kenney juggernaut. And his departure from provincial politics was pretty much a certainty from the moment he lost the UCP leadership to Mr. Kenney on Oct. 28 last year.

Mr. Jean’s defeat was literally tearful, all the more stinging in that he appeared to have really persuaded himself not only that he could win, but that he was going to.

Once he had lost, the handwriting was on the wall. Mr. Jean was the only United Conservative MLA to decline a shadow cabinet position in Mr. Kenney’s caucus – assuming, that is, that Mr. Kenney offered him one. Mr. Kenney quickly purged Mr. Jean’s supporters from the new party’s staff. There was a strong sense, after the dust from the leadership race had settled, there was no love lost between the two men.

Notwithstanding that, Mr. Jean gracefully wished Mr. Kenney well in a social media post last night.

When the shadow cabinet posts were handed out, Mr. Jean said he already had an important job: serving the people of his Fort McMurray-Conklin riding. Now he has given that up too.

The reason he gave yesterday was the same as the one he gave in January 2014, when he stepped down as MP for Fort McMurray Athabasca: to spend more time with his family. He married his former Parliamentary special assistant, Kimberley Michelutti, in August 2016.

He has faced personal challenges since entering provincial politics. His 24-year-old son died of lymphoma shortly before he was chosen Wildrose leader. His family home was destroyed in the devastating Fort Mac Fire in May 2016. He recently told a local newspaper in his hometown that three family members have been diagnosed with cancer.

Premier Notley thanked Mr. Jean for his service to the province yesterday. “As former Leader of the Official Opposition, Brian Jean took over his party at a difficult time and led it ably and conducted himself in a manner that demonstrated it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable.”

This seems fair, and it certainly can’t be said of his successor as Opposition leader.

15 Comments to: Brian Jean, former Opposition leader and unsuccessful contender to lead United Conservative Party, quits Alberta politics

  1. Sam Gunsch

    March 6th, 2018

    Climenhaga has written a more decent and honest eulogy of a political career than we’ll likely see from AB conservatives.

    • Bob Raynard

      March 6th, 2018

      I agree. Jason Kenney said some nice things about Mr. Jean, but it sure didn’t seem very sincere.

    • Lars

      March 6th, 2018

      Yes, well said.
      I didn’t agree with Jean much, if at all, and would not have wanted to see him as Premier, but I didn’t find him unlikable. His replacement, on the other hand, inspires a real visceral dislike in me. Far too reminiscent of the sort of political actor we we all knew in high school – a lot of right-wing politicians, and their actions, have smacked of that level of maturity for a couple of decades now, but Kenney exemplifies the sort of popular bully that managed to rally the vote for school president and used his office to reduce opportunities for the Chess Club and other such losers in favour of the Cool Kids.

    • Omega

      March 6th, 2018

      And yet his eulogy is for a smarmy political construct that embarrassed even the most failing grades of political science! Let alone human decency! Shall we grade them on cleverness and humanity? Kenney? Ezra? Mmm who’s that last one? Rob Anders?

  2. Northern Loon

    March 6th, 2018

    I have a more cynical view of Mr Jean. He was my MP and was not very effective as he would seldom return emails.

    An interesting take on the timelines related to this serial quitter is that he quit federal politics just before changes that would have reduced his pension. If Brian ran again he would have needed to wait until he was 65 before collecting an unreduced pension. By quitting before the last election he collected a tidy severance and then became eligible to collect his full unreduced pension when he turned 55.

    February 3rd was Mr Jean’s 55th birthday and he is now able to collect a pension of $120,000.00 per year after occupying a safe seat for a whole 10 years. Pretty good considering Brian’s total contributions to his pension are less than what I have paid for the last 30 years, and my pension will result in about a quarter of his.

    So yes, my view of Mr Jean is entirely cynical. Money speaks and Mr Jean’s decisions around money speak to how money has affected his ‘commitment’ to his constituents.

    Brian Jean was never in the political game for his constituents, but he was in it for the money.

    Another interesting fact – Jason Kenney, the other saviour from Ottawa, turns 55 in 5 years and 3 months. Jason also collected a handsome severance package when he quit before the last election. Anybody want to place a bet on how long Jason remains in politics after his 5 years are up?

    When Jason turns 65 he gets an increase in his pension due to his time spent in a cabinet. Pretty good for a guy who dropped out of University and who has never held a job that wasn’t political.

    Jason and Brian, who complained about pigs at the trough, turn out to be, well pigs at the trough.

    • Tiddo

      March 7th, 2018

      This is excellent…. thank you.

  3. Bob Raynard

    March 6th, 2018

    I have always thought it was unfair for the media to pass judgement on Jean’s performance in the 2015 leaders’ debate, since his son had died only a few weeks earlier.

  4. Brett

    March 6th, 2018

    Sad to see him go. He has so much more integrity than Jason Kenney. Just a shame he was weighted down so much by the social conservatives within the Wildrose Party.

  5. David

    March 6th, 2018

    There seems to be a lot of MLA’s leaving the UCP, voluntarily or otherwise, for a party that hopes to win power in the next election. I don’t think that is a good sign for them and Brian Jean’s departure is an even worse sign for various reasons. Although he didn’t win the leadership, Mr. Jean came across as moderate, fairly easy going and was popular with the voters. This seems exactly like the kind of person the party, which is full of inexperienced MLA’s, would need to occupy a key cabinet position, if they win the next election. So you might expect Mr. Kenney to go to a great effort to keep him, even if they were not that close personally. Perhaps that did actually happen and Mr. Kenney just wasn’t convincing enough, but I think it was more likely Kenney was ambivalent about Jean staying and the former Wildrose leader knew it.

    While Jean had his shortcomings and weaknesses, he was also a lot of things Kenney was not and their strengths and weaknesses could have actually complimented each other nicely. Jean seemed more like a regular guy, who enjoyed the outdoors and had a family he cared about. He did not come across as a power hungry person whose only interest in life was politics. Jean was certainly conservative in outlook, but seemed to understand he needed to moderate his views to appeal to a broader number of voters. The UCP has not yet been stuck with the extreme label that Wildrose had in the public’s mind as it is still fairly new, but if Kenney is not careful it could soon be. They can not use the former PC MLA’s as a cover forever, especially as three of them have already left (or never joined) UCP. Essentially UCP is dominated by former Wildrose MLA’s with a handful of former PC’s.

    You have to wonder what Jean is thinking in leaving now, especially with his “never say never” comment about returning to politics in the future. I think his comments about wanting to spend more time with his family right now are sincere, but one wonders if UCP doesn’t win the next election as they expect, might Jean consider jumping back in after again to pick up the pieces? Perhaps Jean is more clever than most give him credit for being.

    • John

      March 6th, 2018

      Every politician in history ( I only exaggerate a bit) say are leaving to “spend more time with the family”. I expect that is not the case in a fair number of them.

  6. Farmer Dave

    March 6th, 2018

    Since Jason Kenney has poked his head out of his pigeon hole on pipelines (nothing he said will help Alberta) I wonder if he will announce that he will decline any Government of Alberta pension something like Debra Grey did under the Preston Manning UCP banner and then when leaving politics opt back in saying it is for his family just in case something terrible happens to them. This seems to the Wildrose/Alliance/UCP way, no help for you however if something terrible happens to me I need help and a Government Pension.

  7. Magda

    March 7th, 2018

    Brian Jean ran a lousy campaign in 2015. His ceaseless Polly-wanna-cracker refrain of “tax cuts! tax cuts! tax cuts!” became a joke even to right-wing pundits, and he never once explained how he’d actually run a government, what priorities he would set and how he’d achieve his goals. His business background almost entirely consists of working in the companies his mother founded, and his political career has been well described above by other posters. I find the idea that anyone should have cut him slack because his son died to be contemptible; his losses during the Fort McMurray wildfire were the same as those of other families, and he repaid the efforts of professional firefighters and other responders by casting aspersions on the post-fire report before the government – or he – had even read it.

    He wasn’t as bad as Jason Kenney would be if he had the chance, but he was certainly nothing out of the ordinary run of backbencher Albertans have been electing for decades. Hope he enjoys his pensions and stepping back into his job with his mummy, and supports his neighbours in their efforts to rebuild their town.

    • Farmer Dave

      March 14th, 2018

      Magna, as per your reply saying that Brian Jean and how he would run a government, the question is has Jason Kenney ever said how he would run a government (Policy, etc.)? Please explain your views/comments as per what you think Jason Kenney would do.

      • Magda

        March 20th, 2018

        My comments and views about Jason Kenney have been amply displayed on several threads on this site. Are you under the impression I’m pro-Kenney? That would not mesh well with my comment that BJ is better than JK would be.

        It’s Magda.

        It’s possible to think both men would be disasters – and we shouldn’t forget it. Same thing happened with Preston Manning; he reluctantly retired and suddenly he was the “elder statesman” of Canadian conservatism. In fact he was a loser, destroying almost everything he came into contact with, and contaminating western Canadian conservatism right down to the DNA.

        We’re never going to get good conservatism again until we finally expel the Manning bacillus from our political system. Wish they’d hurry up with that antidote.


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