Alberta Politics
Brian Jean, back when he was Opposition leader and reporters paid attention to what he had to say (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Beware the Ides of March: Brian Jean, Jason Kenney, Joe Anglin and the annals of Alberta conservatism

Posted on March 14, 2019, 1:20 am
9 mins

I suppose today, the day before the date in 44 BC made famous by the demise of Julius Caesar, would be an appropriate moment to remind all potential victims of political plots … beware the Ides of March!

It says something for both the ruthlessness and absent likeability of United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney that I’m sitting here at my typewriter taking seriously a rumour that Brian Jean, his formal rival for the top UCP job, may be about to run for the Alberta Party.

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, having a chuckle (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Here’s what my colleague Dave Cournoyer, author of the excellent Daveberta.ca political blog, wrote yesterday: “Just over a year since he resigned as the MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean is said to be making a big announcement later this week – and the rumour mill is churning hard with news that Jean could jump back into Alberta politics as the Alberta Party candidate in the new Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche district in the upcoming election.”

If that comes to pass, though, it will be one of the more bizarre developments in Alberta Political history.

Mr. Jean spent most of the life of Premier Rachel Notley’s NDP Government working very hard to unite the right under a single banner, the better to crush the Orange wave that unexpectedly swamped Alberta in 2015.

Who can forget the photo of Mr. Jean, up-thrust thumb raised in jubilation, taken the night members of the Wildrose Party he led and the Progressive Conservative Party led by Mr. Kenney voted to become a single entity, soon to be known as the UCP?

Former Wildrose and Independent MLA Joe Anglin, now running for the Alberta Party (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Of course, back then Mr. Jean had a reasonable expectation the work he’d done would be rewarded with the UCP leadership, and perhaps the premiership of Alberta after that. It was before the “Kamikaze Mission,” the UCP voting scandal that has grabbed international attention, and other unvavoury activities provided some hints of how far Mr. Kenney is prepared to go to win.

Were Mr. Jean to proceed with this most unlikely venture, he would find himself running alongside former Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin, a man who holds a record of sorts for political affiliations.

Mr. Anglin was leader of the Alberta Greens in the mid-Zeroes. He was elected in 2012 as Wildrose MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. He left the Wildrose Party in 2014, before Mr. Jean took over, to sit as an Independent after he lost the Wildrose nomination to Jason Nixon, now Mr. Kenney’s UCP House Leader. He sought the Progressive Conservative nomination in 2015 but was disallowed by the party. Last year, he announced he would run for the Freedom Conservative Party led by Derek Fildebrandt – who was pushed out of the UCP by Mr. Kenney. Now Mr. Anglin as an Alberta Party candidate.

My detractors will claim I jumped from party to party,” Mr. Anglin said in a recent email. “There is some truth to this, but the allegation is misleading. … Since 2008, I have been a candidate for two political parties; in both situations, both parties collapsed after they abandoned their principles for the pursuit … of power. I didn’t collapse with them, and I have never abandoned my principles. I do not plan to start now!”

Julius Caesar, looking vaguely Putin-like, a warning to us all (Photo: Wikimedia Commons).

Moreover, he observed, unlike some, I never stabbed Brian Jean in the back!”

Mr. Jean is no Joe Anglin. Despite the buzz, I’d be surprised if he runs for another party – even the Alberta Party.

Still, under leader Stephen Mandel the Alberta Party seems to be trying to take its political evolution full circle, back to the far-right fringe where it started out. And that wouldn’t actually be all that different from the Wildrose Party Mr. Jean improbably saved in 2014, not long after he had quit as a Conservative MP for Fort Mac.

Readers will recall that happened in the wake of Danielle Smith’s attempt to lead her permanently discontented caucus back to the Progressive Conservative mother ship, with only partial success.

We’ll see what Mr. Jean has to say, if anything. Once bitten, I for one am twice shy. Having been fooled by Mr. Jean’s last big political announcement – which turned out to be, “Kim and I are having a baby!” – I’m not about to get worked up about more supposedly earth-shattering Brian Jean news.

But if it turns out Mr. Kenney, the man who successfully united Alberta’s right, is so disliked by his former rivals that right-uniters like Mr. Jean can become reconstituted vote-splitters, well, surely that says something about the man, does it not?

Beware the Ides of March?

He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.

Exeunt all except BRUTUS and CASSIUS.

This just in … 10:30 a.m., Thursday, March 14

This morning’s edition of the Calgary Sun brings Postmedia political columnist Rick Bell’s claim Brian Jean is about to announce he’s the new leader of … the Freedom Conservative Party.

Mr. Bell, who appears from his columns to be an ardent supporter of Jason Kenney and the UCP, explained the meaning of this in his usual staccato style, which often eschews complete sentences: “Taking on the United Conservatives under Jason Kenney as well as the Notley NDP. Splitting the conservative vote.”

Once upon a time, the FCP (barely) occupied the extreme right-wing fringe of Alberta conservative politics, but became a personal vehicle for former Wildrose and UCP Caucus member Derek Fildebrandt, whose star fell after Mr. Kenney became the “united” party’s leader.

On its face, Mr. Jean as FCP leader seems even less likely than Mr. Jean as an Alberta Party candidate and potential leader. Mr. Jean once tried, unsuccessfully, to kick Mr. Fildebrandt out of the Wildrose caucus. Why would Mr. Fildebrandt give up the FCP leadership to a former boss he believes treated him unfairly?

But the Alberta right nowadays is both overconfident of victory (those polls!) and in the process of fracturing into ideological splinters, as happens when a political movement is caught in the grip of fundamentalist dogma. So who knows?

As a general rule, readers can assume Mr. Cournoyer is a more reliable political observer than Mr. Bell. But in this case, nobody, least of all me, really has a clear idea of what’s going on.

One is inevitably reminded of the immortal words of the late John F. Kennedy, president of the United States: “Where there’s smoke, there’s usually a smoke-making machine.”

Stand by.

6 Comments to: Beware the Ides of March: Brian Jean, Jason Kenney, Joe Anglin and the annals of Alberta conservatism

  1. David

    March 14th, 2019

    I am not sure either if Mr. Jean will go to the Alberta Party, but if he does it wouldn’t be the strangest thing to happen in Alberta politics in the last 10 years. The surprise consumation of the union between the PC’s and the majority of the Wildrose MLA’s is hard to beat.

    If he does, I suppose one could see a method to his madness. First, with all the talk lately of Kamikaze candidates and vote rigging, he and his supporters must feel very cheated of victory in the UCP race. Second, the Alberta Party might not be a bad fit for him – willing to be more fiscally Conservative, but not so socially Conservative. The social Conservatives were always more Kenney’s crowd and Jean never seemed as enthusiatic about their causes. Third, the Alberta Party might just win some seats unlike the more fringe conservative parties. Lastly, as many have noted current leader Mandel is well past the usual retirement age, so chances are good he will not stay on for another election after the upcoming one. Therefore, Jean might be able to take over from him soon without much difficulty. On the downside, the party is still a real fixer upper, but Jean seems to have some experience with fixer uppers.

    Kenney seems to have collected a remarkable number of political enemies amongst former supporters of his own party in a short period of time. Perhaps in part due to his hubris, over aggressive ways and dirty tricks. The Ides of March shows that even those who seem unassailably powerful need to be careful and mindful of how they treat others around them.

    If Jean does go to the Alberta Party it could blow things up. The facade of the Conservatives being united could be shattered. Any good soothsayer could have told Kenney it was tempting fate to put the word united in the party name. They should have simply gone with the Conservative Party, but I think that name may have already been taken before Kenney arrived from Ottawa.

    Reply
    • Jerrymacgp

      March 16th, 2019

      For the formerly moderate centrist Alberta Party to embrace such conservative stalwarts as Brian Jean, former Conservative Party of Canada MP and Wildrose Party leader, and Joe Anglin, long-time “property rights” crusader and former Wildrose Party MLA, not to mention their current leader, former PC MLA & Cabinet Minister—even if only for a blink of an eye—Stephen Mandel, shows how identity-less the Alberta Party really is. From way back in the ‘00s, when they were doing those silly “Big Listens”, they have not been able to define themselves to voters. Are they really liberals who want to avoid that always-toxic-in-Alberta label: “Liberal”? Or are they disgruntled or disillusioned Progressive Conservatives, rejecting the neo-con takeover of their former Natural Governing Party of Alberta? Who knows?

      Voters know what the NDP stands for, and they also know what the UCP stands for. But they haven’t a clue what the Alberta Party stands for, not really. The Alberta Party would be government if only Tweeters, pundits and politics nerds could vote, but in reality, they are never going to win more than a few seats.

      Reply
  2. Prooofreader

    March 14th, 2019

    Now Mr. Anglin as an Alberta Party candidate.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      March 15th, 2019

      Thank you, Proofreader. It’s been fixed. DJC

      Reply
  3. Scotty on Denman

    March 14th, 2019

    Beware the Ides of March—but in Alberta politcs, the Kalends and Nones, too. None the less, I’d expect post-Gecko dissolution of traditional conservatism to resort to rearranging the calendar —just like in Ancient Rome which had to accommodate Iulius and Augustus Ceasars, and add a Kalend or two to leap over discrepant lunacies and bring the measure of the times back into line with reality. (Having done this myself, simply to make all Moon Days land on the first, 8th, 15th, 22nd of the month, thence all Tue’s Days on the second, 9th, 16th, and so on, requiring not only periodic Leap Days, but also few Special Days which occur but once a year, each with its own special name—and generally try to make the improbable plausible.)

    Reading DJC’s reportage here, I do similarly wonder how all these fractions of factions of fractals of the politcal right are going to be accommodated in Alberta. There seems no dearth of politicians demanding it and, I suppose, some might even have their day—or a four-year night (in BC, Bongday, for example, can last up to—uh—420 days?—or is it hours?—I’ll have to get back, on that…)

    But we have to hope the most important veteran of polities would reassemble, one day, into a newer version of what it used to be—loyal to Sovereign and sovereignty, part of the organic whole of all partisanships and federated partners, and conservative of a healthy environment as well as worthy traditions useful to the modern predicament; if it could do that we could happily memorialize it with its own special day, whatever that be.

    Just not on Christmas or New Year or Remembrance Days—or April 20, either (especially in 2020–“The Big One”). I think February 29’s good cuz we need to be reminded of what a long, strange trip this post-Gecko trip’s been—at least every four years.

    Until then, we risk having a perfectly good, midweek day-name ruined by association with “Soldiers of…” and the perfection of the Bard by hackneyed mash-ups of Ceasar, Lear and Macbeth, mangled in the theatre of the dying neo-right.

    “You, too, eh Brute?”

    Reply
  4. Chris Pepin

    March 14th, 2019

    Insightful article! Kenney’s coronation is far from assured. He is not Ralph Klein redux… (Although not a fan of Klein in any way, I understood his popular appeal.)

    Reply

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