Alberta Politics
Former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean: Just fishin’? Or fishin’ for something? (Photo: Facebook).

Happy New Year! What’s Brian Jean up to? Is the former Wildrose leader plotting a comeback?

Posted on January 01, 2019, 2:16 am
9 mins

Happy New Year!

So, now that it’s 2019, what’s Brian Jean up to?

Brian Jean in his days as Opposition leader in the Alberta Legislature (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Maybe it’s just me, but he’s sure acting like a guy who’s thinking about being a political candidate again!

You remember Brian Jean, don’t you? He used to be the leader of the Wildrose Party.

Indeed, he was the guy who emerged out of the weeds around Fort McMurray after retiring as the region’s Member of Parliament in January 2014 to save the Wildrose Party from the fate Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice had plotted for it, which was basically to drive a stake through its metaphorical heart.

As alert readers of this blog will recall, in 2014 Ms. Smith was the leader of the Wildrose Party Opposition in the Alberta Legislature.

In December of that year, she led eight of her MLAs across the floor to join the PC Government led by Mr. Prentice, a political coup that looked brilliant at the moment it happened. The Edmonton Journal crowed that Mr. Prentice had “crushed” the Opposition and created “a staggering 72-member political juggernaut.”

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Some juggernaut. The bold strike quickly turned into a disaster for Alberta’s small-c conservatives, and in particular for the Wildrose turncoats in the Legislature. In addition to Ms. Smith, the defectors were Rob Anderson, the party’s House Leader, plus Gary Bikman, Rod Fox, Jason Hale, Bruce McAllister, Blake Pedersen, Bruce Rowe and Jeff Wilson. Remember them? Probably not. Not one of them remained in the House after the May 5, 2015, general election.

Five Wildrose MLAs didn’t heed their former leader’s call, but to say they were a dispirited crew when Mr. Jean stepped up to the plate would be an understatement.

Mr. Jean was elected leader of the foundering party on Feb. 25, 2015. He was elected to the Legislature with 21 MLAs in the election that brought a majority NDP Government under Premier Rachel Notley to power.

After that, he soldiered away, turning the party into a viable Opposition despite having to deal with both weak and rebellious caucus members. He worked hard to unite the Progressive Conservatives and his Wildrosers in a new party he hoped to lead.

But then Jason Kenney appeared out of the Ottawa woodwork, all slick talk and dirty tricks. In the fall of 2017, Mr. Kenney turned Mr. Jean’s political dreams into road-kill. Elections Alberta is now investigating the financing of the campaign of another leadership candidate, Calgary investment dealer Jeff Callaway, amid allegations it was ginned up as a “Kamikaze run” to undermine Mr. Jean while Mr. Kenney kept his paws clean.

The late Jim Prentice, the last Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

If Mr. Jean concluded he was treated shabbily by the Kenney crowd, presumably most of us would agree.

So, all told, 2018 cannot have been an easy year for Mr. Jean. After his defeat by Mr. Kenney, he quickly exited provincial politics, stage right, resigning his seat on March 5. He’s mostly flown under the political radar since then, concentrating on his family (he married his former Parliamentary special assistant Kimberly Michelutti in 2016) and his family’s businesses.

In late November, he lost his mother, Frances Jean, one of Fort Mac’s most prominent business people and a huge influence in her son’s life. She was 86.

Now, however, Mr. Jean has popped onto the radar again.

On Christmas Day, he published a letter on his Facebook page explaining that while in 2018 “I mostly kept my nose out of politics,” in 2019 “I will be doing advocacy work to help return prosperity to Canada by fighting for the principles that led to Confederation.” He asked readers to visit BrianJean.ca.

Danielle Smith when she was leader of the Wildrose Party Opposition (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

He also sent out large numbers of Christmas cards to former supporters that, in addition to the normal seasonal message, asked them to visit the website.

On Saturday, he posted a similar statement in his Facebook page’s “About” section. “I will fight for the issues that matter to you that have been forgotten by our federal government and attacked by our provincial government,” he said in that one. “I’m going to be an activist for Albertans and their families to make sure governments stay accountable and work for the people they’re supposed to: you.”

He repeated his plea for readers to visit BrianJean.ca. To do what? To “help me be more vocal and get our message out.”

If you go to the website, there’s a form to let you subscribe to Mr. Jean’s mailing list. Nothing more. It’s rather mysterious.

So what’s up? Is he plotting some kind of comeback?

I’ve heard it said Mr. Jean is determined not to be the new Nancy Betkowski. This may be in response to rumours on social media he’s been eyeing the Alberta Party now led by former Edmonton Mayor and PC cabinet minister Stephen Mandel as a political vehicle. Or not.

Ms. Betkowski, also known as Nancy MacBeth, was the Alberta Conservative who lost the leadership race to Ralph Klein in 1992, rebranded herself as leader of the Alberta Liberals and lost to Mr. Klein again, very badly, in the 2001 general election.

Well, at least we know Mr. Jean won’t run as a Liberal. (Joke.) But that tidbit should tell us something about his thinking too.

Maybe Mr. Jean figures he can have another kick at the can if Mr. Kenney manages to prove he’s still a winner in Edmonton and then heads back to Ottawa to replace the hapless Andrew Scheer as a more credible challenger to Justin Trudeau. This would be sort of a Scott Moe strategy, Mr. Moe being the underwhelming Saskatchewan premier who replaced Brad Wall last year.

Or maybe Mr. Jean is operating on the theory there’s no point coming back if someone doesn’t ask you to.

Maybe he’s just dipping his toe in the water to see how inviting it is.

Maybe he sent former supporters all those Christmas cards just to see if they remember his name.

Whatever it was, we should keep an eye on Mr. Jean in 2019, methinks.

15 Comments to: Happy New Year! What’s Brian Jean up to? Is the former Wildrose leader plotting a comeback?

  1. Bob Raynard

    January 1st, 2019

    Brian Jean is certainly the best leader the UCP never had.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      January 1st, 2019

      The logic of this is unassailable! DJC

      Reply
  2. TENET

    January 1st, 2019

    I am all in for re-cycling. I tote bottles, cans, cardboard, even my coffee pods dutifully and dedicatedly. But this is too much, so stop burning bales in the graveyards to exhume the dead.

    Reply
  3. TENET

    January 1st, 2019

    DAVID: Happy New Year! You are a treasure to many of us.

    Reply
  4. J.E. Molnar

    January 1st, 2019

    Like a Swami trained at the elbow of Jimmy the Greek — I’m going to go out on a limb right here, right now.

    I find it hard to believe that Brian Jean didn’t remain closely connected to some former party members in some capacity, given Kenney’s polarizing and divisive nature. With inside United Conservative Party information (internal polling data), it’s very likely he senses Kenney’s personal approval ratings (vs Rachel Notley’s) is telling a much different story on the ground than the one foisted on unsuspecting Albertans by those aggravating, mendacious online (win-a-prize) polls we see published in all the Postmedia products and elsewhere. Brian Jean is nothing if not cagey. An election slip by Jason Kenney could conceivably pave the way for a rousing return to respectability amongst UCP members for Jean. Now wouldn’t that be a kick in the old activist’s pants?

    Reply
  5. tom in ontario

    January 1st, 2019

    “I will be doing advocacy work to help return prosperity to Canada to fight for the principles that led to Confederation.”
    One fresh membership in the Wildrose Party for anyone who can explain what this means.

    Reply
    • Sassy

      January 1st, 2019

      I have no idea what it means, but I can almost guarantee it wasn’t written by Brian Jean. I would guess it was written by a committee in Calgary.

      Reply
  6. Scotty on Denman

    January 1st, 2019

    Alberta Cons can’t seem to get out of eachother’s way for trying.

    Reply
  7. Sassy

    January 1st, 2019

    Another possibility is the behind-the-scenes leaders of the UCP have determined Brian Jean may still have some influence with former Wildrosers and want to get him out front campaigning for the UCP team. They know their shady nomination tactics are being revealed and hurting their brand. Also, the Alberta Advantage Party became an official electoral party recently and the leaders (former builders of the Wildrose Party) stated last year they intended to run ordinary Albertans in every riding. They admited they felt betrayed by Smith, then Jean, and claimed none of their candidates would be current or former politicians. Maybe the UCP is getting a little worried about yet another right-wing party taking away some of their votes and wants Brian Jean to reassure some of those die-hard Wildrosers.

    By the way, Happy New Year David and thank you for all you do!

    Reply
  8. brett

    January 1st, 2019

    I will vote for the party that has as it’s platform to open Alberta for Business, law and order, family values, reduce rural crime, be environmental friendly, increase health spending, build more schools, prudent public spending, reduce the deficit, etc.

    Of course, only if there are some specific measures even among two or three of them.

    Reply
    • Jerrymacgp

      January 2nd, 2019

      Mr Brett: your list is interesting given the way politics are done here. “Open for Business”, law & order, family values, & reducing rural crime are all policy positions normally associated with conservative parties; environmental friendliness, increasing health spending, & building more schools, with more progressive parties. Prudent public spending is simply good governance, which should be a priority regardless of party label, but reducing the deficit is also normally a conservative platform plank—although rarely exercised when Cons are in power, with their focus on tax cuts.

      That said, the current NDP government has initiated a number of reasonable measure on rural crime, and “family values” are also a progressive issue if you expand the definition of “family” beyond husband, wife, & 2.2 children. As for the deficit, the Notley government’s plan seems to be largely to grow our way to a balanced budget, wherein government revenues increase, and spending decreases, both gradually as a result of increasing economic activity & employment. Whether it works or not is still to be determined—early indications are that it was for a while, but may have faltered in the current quarter—but that’s the plan.

      Reply
  9. Bill Malcolm

    January 1st, 2019

    Several weeks ago, Mr Jean was interviewed on some CBC TV news program or other, and sounded like a none-too-bright raving loony. I’d never heard him before, so was interested in what he had to say on this phone interview.

    He talked over the interviewer’s questions and showed the same deep understanding of equalization that all Alberta Conservatives repeat as mantra. A mantra not rooted in reality, but with Kenney pressing the “I’m an alien dictator from Proxima Centauri” button, and Notley occupying the former PC positions on oil, well, the right have had to come up with something, anything. Raving and talking over an interviewer like Mr Jeans’ with general rabid foaming at the mouth seems like the current plan. The CBC host couldn’t wait to end the interview, being of the mild type the Corporation uses to replace senior reporters on vacation; it was obviously painful for her.

    Personally I haven’t heard any senior NS politician, even those from the backwoods, appear quite as lacking in basic logic or awareness as Mr Jean – I felt sorry for him for the impression he left viewers, and the uncomfortableness he obviously caused the host. As the Brits would have said back in the day – “We’ve got a right one ‘ere, lads!” Deary me, it was a poor showing and the man seemed oblivious of the mores of basic social interaction and courtesy, all while appearing none too bright.

    Reply
  10. Elizabeth Hagell

    January 2nd, 2019

    Had a call from Pantheon Research the other day. They were doing a bit of voter choice questions, seemed to be a lot of Alberta Party questions. One question asked was something like, “Would you vote for the Alberta Party lead by Brian Jean?” I found this very interesting.
    Thanks for the interesting and informative posts.

    Reply
  11. brett

    January 2nd, 2019

    I would not vote for Brian Jean. One reason….he refused to stand up to those far right wing folks in Wild Rose whilst he was the leader. I expect a leader to lead and to do what is best for Alberta and Albertans. Not bow to wishes of a few who may hold sway in some way over the party.

    Reply
  12. David

    January 2nd, 2019

    I get the sense that Jean has a feeling all is not right in Kenney UCP land and is getting ready to pounce at the right moment. I suspect Kenney has alienated a number of former Wildrosers, and probably some current UCPers, with his disdain for the grassroots and at times heavy handed and arrogant style.

    Perhaps Jean may find a Callaway type person to lead the attack on Kenney, so he can keep his hands relatively clean. If so, that sure would be karma.

    Reply

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