When this blog’s entirely fictional Vegas oddsmaker Jimmy “The Geek” Porcospino celebrated the first birthday of the United Conservative Party last summer by setting the next year’s resignation odds for each of the party’s remaining caucus members, he gave Drumheller-Stettler MLA Rick Strankman only 20-1 odds of heading for the Independent benches before anyone else did.
Estimating the likelihood of Mr. Strankman’s departure back on July 27, 2018, “Jimmy” described the former Wildrose MLA as follows: “Not the sharpest knife in the UCP drawer, but he was promoted to hero by Stephen Harper after being jailed for illegally running barley across the border. A climate change denier, but since when was that a problem in Dinosaur Country, where nothing’s gone wrong for Conservatives since the Mesozoic Era?”
Maybe so. But as for Mr. Strankman being less likely to leave the party in a huff or a cloud of controversy than several of his caucus colleagues, as U.S. President Donald Trump would say … Wrong!
Obviously, that was then and this is now. You may wonder, what’s changed in the meantime? The biggest factor, clearly, was that Mr. Strankman – hero though he may have been to the utopian market fundamentalists of the Alberta conservative movement – didn’t quite fit into UCP Leader Jason Kenney’s plans for the tightly scripted future of Alberta.
In September, Mr. Strankman lost the party’s nomination in the central Alberta riding to 37-year-old Nate Horner, scion of the mostly Big-C Conservative Horner political clan that has already given us Hugh Horner (appointed by Peter Lougheed), Doug Horner (a minister under Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach and Alison Redford), and family black sheep Jack Horner, who crossed the floor of the House of Commons in 1977 to join prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet.
As one of the band of Wildrose brothers elected in 2012 who was re-elected under the same party’s banner in 2015, you would have thought Mr. Strankman should have been able to expect to win nomination again without difficulty. This would normally have been true even after the 2017 double-reverse hostile takeover of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties that spawned the UCP.
His occasional political no-no’s, like his embarrassing “bring your wife’s pie” fund-raiser and his comparison of the NDP’s carbon levy to genocide, barely raised an eyebrow inside UCP circles. What’s more, his rural central Alberta riding is as safe as territory can be for conservative politicians.
Nevertheless, Mr. Kenney seems never to have warmed to his MLA’s charms, such as they were, and Mr. Strankman , 65, could match neither the youthful appeal nor the membership-selling skills of Mr. Horner. After the dust from the nomination vote had settled at the end of September, Mr. Kenney blew Mr. Strankman off in 11 words in a Tweet congratulating his challenger for his victory. “Thanks also to @RickStrankman for his years of service to Albertans.”
Presumably after stewing for the rest of the year, Mr. Strankman wrote Speaker Bob Wanner yesterday, complaining about “the hyper-partisan self-centered politics we see at play again today in Alberta has degenerated the direct grassroots representation of Albertans to a point where their best interests are being put behind unwritten party interests.”
He also complained about the UCP nomination process, telling reporters yesterday that as the party’s agriculture critic, he thought it was “unusual they would call the nomination right in harvest time. It’s just not done.” Well, it’s just not done if you want your ag critic to win the nomination, anyway.
Accordingly, Mr. Strankman asked Mr. Wanner to let him sit as an Independent. “Sitting as an independent removes me from the current undemocratic atmosphere that is being fostered,” he wrote. “I want my colleagues to reflect on where they came from and why they made the commitment they did to Albertans.”
For his part, Mr. Kenney issued a response on Facebook, thanking Mr. Strankman (“sincerely,” this time) for his service, wishing him the best, and adding piously, “we always knew that having open, democratic nominations would create some tensions within the party.”
“That is particularly true when an incumbent MLA is not selected by their local grassroots members,” Mr. Kenney went on. “But I will continue to respect the decisions made by the members.”
“I look forward to working with our elected candidate for Drumheller-Stettler, Nate Horner,” the UCP leader concluded, Mr. Horner, apparently, never being far from his thoughts.
Mr. Strankman noted in his letter to Mr. Wanner that the current state of affairs in the UCP “is simply not acceptable to the hard-working Albertans within the constituency that are urging me to sit as an Independent.”
Does that mean Mr. Strankman might consider running again, under his own or some other party’s banner?
He says he hasn’t ruled it out. I understand the Freedom Conservative Party led by former Wildrose and UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt is recruiting suitable candidates in ridings like Drumheller-Stettler that are unlikely under any circumstances to vote NDP.