Tom Olsen and the Wreckage. Mr. Olsen is seen between the tall guy and the red balloon at a PC Party function in 2011. The woman at the centre is named Alison Redford.

I think I’ve figured out the United Conservative Party election strategy for 2019.

In light of the embarrassingly revealing policy resolutions passed at the UCP’s founding convention in Red Deer over the weekend and the party leadership’s subsequent effort at damage control, not to mention the emerging behaviour of candidates seeking UCP nominations, the strategy is becoming clear.

UCP Leader Jason Kenney with his famous “Grassroots Guarantee” (Photo: CBC). Not worth the Coroplast it’s printed on?

They’re going to run against themselves!

I can see their grainy, scary, fright-TV ads, sinister music buzzing in the background … “The UCP wants to persecute gay kids, ban abortions and privatize health care. The only way you can stop them is by voting for us … in 2019, vote for Jason’s Team!”

As all Albertans by now must know, UCP Leader Jason Kenney started his campaign for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership by calling for kids who join gay-straight alliances in schools to be outed to their parents. (Or was that the campaign to lead the UCP? Whatever, it also seems to have been part of a concerted effort, apparently largely successful, to drive moderate Tories out of the new party.)

Tom Olsen, with the actual not metaphorical Wreckage (Photo:

But now that the UCP has endorsed the policy he campaigned on, Mr. Kenney says he is against it.

According to news reports, he also said he interprets the resolution differently. Regardless, though, as far at the party platform goes, he’s The Decider. “I will take the resolutions adopted today as important input, but I hold the pen on the platform.” Understood?

The leader stated: “A United Conservative government will not be changing law or policy to require notification of parents when kids join GSAs. We will not do that. You can take that to the bank.”

Just like you could take The Grassroots Guarantee ™ to the bank. Remember that?

A screenshot of a Tweet about the “Grassroots Guarantee” from Mr. Kenney, posted back in the day.

The Grassroots Guarantee was a feature of Mr. Kenney’s fill-in-the-blanks-to-suit-yourself leadership campaign(s) that, as readers will recall, declared “the policies of the United Conservative Party must be developed democratically by its grassroots members, not imposed by its leaders.”

“We’ve had enough top-down leadership,” Mr. Kenney Tweeted in March 2017. “The Grassroots Policy Guarantee trusts members to set our policy direction.”

Well, that was then. This is now!

Tom Olsen, meanwhile, has been a leader in the field of communications for many years. A former colleague of mine at the Calgary Herald, Mr. Olsen was for a spell press secretary to premier Ed Stelmach.

Mr. Olsen is best known to the public as the man who got stuck with the difficult job of explaining how a photo of children frolicking on an English beach managed to find its way into a $25-million Alberta branding campaign launched by Mr. Stelmach’s government in 2009.

The beach at Bamburgh, Northumberland, was featured in online advertising and a video about Alberta. Needless to say, Northumberland Tourism was delighted.

“There’s no attempt to make people think that this is Alberta,” Mr. Olsen told the Globe and Mail’s reporter, who nowadays also runs in Alberta conservative circles. “That picture just fit the mood and tone of what we were trying to do,” he rambled on to general hilarity.

All that remained of the Grassroots Guarantee yesterday.

So Mr. Olsen, who also plays guitar for a rock and roll band named, appropriately enough, Tom Olsen and the Wreckage, is probably as good a place as any to look for the kind of strategic communications advice the UCP is likely to take.

And, as it happens, he’s a candidate for the UCP nomination in the Calgary-Buffalo riding, so he really can be our go-to guy on this file.

So what does Mr. Olsen have to say? Well, here’s what he Tweeted yesterday: “Rode my bike to interview at CBC’s Eye Opener this am. Great discussion on why I am running, and the excitement w the UCP AGM. If I wasn’t clear enough: the safety of kids is paramount. No outing gay kids. I do NOT support Res 30.” (Emphasis added, of course, since no italics are allowed on Twitter.)

It was small of me, I know, but I couldn’t resist responding… “So you’re running for whom again, Tom? You’re running against UCP policy the day after the UCP membership passed it? This is just weird. Or did I miss it when you switched to the NDP?”

Mr. Olsen responded, in the spirit of the exchange, notwithstanding that I’d just reminded him the North Sea’s tidewater is nowhere near Alberta, “David! I’m surprised it took you this long! Read @jkenney statement. It’s all there.”

I did, and so it is, so it is … as I said, the UCP is going to run against itself, and its policies are bad enough it just might work!

Join the Conversation


  1. What a bunch Mrs. Redford attracted! In addition to Tommy, I see in the picture you published Doug Elniski, the Pride Parade Tweeter; Joan Crockatt, half-term MP for Calgary Centre; disqualified federal Tory candidate David Xiao; Peter Sandhu, a sitting MLA who lost his own party’s nomination after well-publicized ethical complaints; and Dave Rodney, who, having no choice, gracefully gave up his seat to … Jason Kenney.

    1. After Lougheed handed off conservative politics to Getty, who Klein demolished, AB conservativism has been increasingly retrograde.

      Conservativism has become so unhinged, that it’s impressive that the Beaverton can even satirize AB conservatives:

      excerpt: ‘“Alberta parents have a right to know if their child has dangerous ideas about empathy, the environment, or God forbid, raising corporate tax rates,” said Martha Zhang from Parents for Total Surveillance. “If my child expresses any kind of tolerance or understanding while at school, as a mother I deserve to be informed right away so that I can snuff out those feelings at home with some forced Ayn Rand readings.” ‘

    2. This Redford/PC/conservative’crowd’ that sleeping with Wildrosers and making whoopy, has some ‘splaining’ to do about this: ‘The members at the party convention further outlined guidelines for what progressive behaviours teachers should watch out for. Under a UCP government, Alberta parents will be notified if their child is seen redistributing their lunch based on need, retweeting Bernie Sanders, or using the words “problematic,” “appropriation,” or “carbon tax.” Any attempt to recycle will also be reported.

      While some party members opposed this measure, claiming it “maybe makes us look a bit bad,” and that it infringes on a child’s right to privacy, Jason Kenney has insisted “We’re talking about children here. We don’t want them to have all sorts of rights. It’s not as if they’re foetuses.”

  2. I think you are on the correct track here. As odd as it seems Kenney is trying to remake himself as a moderate reigning in his undisciplined and sometimes extreme party, the party formerly known as Wildrose (any truly moderate PC’s have largely left or more accurately never joined). Good luck with that. It didn’t work for Danielle Smith or Brian Jean and they were much more convincing in being social moderates not having gone to a Catholic religious college or being involved in anti abortion political movements.

    However I think Kenney’s strategy is more nuanced. I suspect by now he has realized he and his party will not win the GSA battle. The best they can do is minimize their casualties by not talking about it too much and not seeming too extreme. However, someone forgot to explain all this to the grassroots, probably the same Kenney flunkie who forgot to tell them he was also just kidding about that grassroots guarantee thing.

    In any event, I suspect Kenney hopes most voters will not be too turned off by the GSA debacle and he hopes to appeal to them on issues more relevant to them like jobs and the economy. On that note the Alberta economy has been recovering quite well from the recession lately. I get the sense the UCP types and Kenney are so angry not because Alberta is doing so badly but because the economy may no longer be the winning issue they hoped to count on. On top of that, the grassroots will not shut up and do as they are told like good old loyal PC’s. Who the heck do they think they are, Wildrosers?

    The UCP convention may not end up being as Kenney might have hoped, the start to the summer of love for him, but the beginning of his summer of discontent. It was all going so well for the UCP before they started talking about policy.

  3. The abruptness of Jason Kenney’s betrayal of his ‘Grass Roots Guarantee’ (I loved the TM, David) is simply mind boggling. After months of using it as a convenient way to avoid having to answer difficult questions, Kenney has unceremoniously dumped it as soon as it became inconvenient. If this is how he operates, it really begs the question:

    Can We Believe Anything He Says?

    Even if we (foolishly) take him at his word that he won’t legislate on outing gay kids, you really have to wonder if he is prepared to enforce existing legislation. For the most part outing kids will be a non-issue – most schools will take it upon themselves to protect the kids’ privacy. The problem will be the fundamentalist religious schools – would a UCP education minister sanction one of these schools if they out gay kids?

  4. Beware of Doug!
    That’s the anti-Ford message I’ve been reading about from my former home province.
    It is an appropriate warning to the somnolent Ontario voters who seem determined to NOT remember Mike Harris and his merry band of civic vandals nor even the most recent ‘wrecking’ crew under Harper.
    However … the warning is also appropriate to the Ontario religious right (same group that seems to be the majority of UCP activists).
    After shamelessly riding the second choice votes of the ‘anal sex lady’ (T.G. Allen) to the leadership, Ford dumped her for … saying in the past, in less guarded terms, the same thing she said throughout the campaign.

    It would be a schadenfreudic delight to see the likes of Kenny and Ford defeated by vote splitting on the right.

  5. Jason Kenney received his political tutelage at the hands of Stephen Harper.

    Kenney comes by his dogmatic leadership style as a result of parroting Harper and should be viewed as simply the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, with all the same lurid political characteristics and undemocratic manifestations that possessed a power-hungry Stephen Harper.

    In Michael Harris’ book “Party of One”, he clearly shines a bright spotlight on Harper’s breathtaking gap between his stated political principles and his practices. Harper’s lies, half-truths and evasions were par for the course in his government, according to Harris. Now Jason Kenney appears to be following the same script, attempting to carve out a similar path to power. New Democrats and mainstream voters should not be surprised, nor politically complacent.

  6. Even if Jason Kenney outed himself as the anti-Christ, the faithful would still vote UCP. It’s all about the team. My tribe against yours.
    This or that particular policy does not matter. The virtues of the leaders are irrelevant. The foibles of the candidates are inconsequential. It’s simply “us” against “them”.
    The rage of the right pitted against the fears of the left. Who can shout the loudest? Who can rally the troops on election day?
    Rational discourse on policy and issues? Why bother? Whichever side wins, their principles and campaign promises will evaporate.
    Democracy in a petro-state.

  7. Wow, that Grassroots Guarantee looks pretty ‘green’, which, as I understand, is equivalent to ‘red’ in today’s Alberta.

  8. This should make for some interesting constituency nomination meetings. Is the candidate loyal to the grassroots members or is the candidate loyal to Jason Kenney?

    Kenney must be very tired these days, and have a very sore derriere. All that jumping and switching from one side of an issue to the another. Then spending time, as appropriate, sitting on the fence trying to straddle both sides.

    The Wildrose members were brutal to Danielle Smith. They did not deserve her. I wonder if they will give Kenney the same treatment.

  9. Jason Kenney taking down his Grassroots Guarantee website really reminds me of the scene in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, where the founding rules kept changing.

  10. So, after Jason Kenney does put pen to paper, announces the UCP Platform, and gets elected based on that will he honour the platform and his commitment to voters or will he walk away from it as he did with the grassroots members of his own party?

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