No surprise, it was Brian Jean in a walk.
The well-heeled local lad, former Conservative Member of Parliament and former leader of the Wildrose Party of Alberta didn’t even have to break into a sweat to capture an overwhelming majority of the votes for the United Conservative Party in yesterday’s Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.
At 24 per cent, though, the turnout for the by-election was disgracefully low: 5,837 votes out of 24,058 eligible electors.
Still, Fort McMurray’s pretty much a Conservative town – it elected Mr. Jean for the Wildrose Party amidst the NDP sweep of 2015. But winning 64 per cent of the votes in an election with eight candidates in the race is a pretty convincing win no matter how you look at it.
Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall when he sashays into his first UCP Caucus meeting as the MLA for Fort Mac?
Will Alberta Premier Jason Kenney – whom Mr. Jean has vowed to overthrow and replace – be on hand to pose for smiling photos with the victorious candidate from northern Alberta?
Will Mr. Jean – who played the spoiler in 2014 and ruined Danielle Smith’s plan to lead the Wildrose Party into Jim Prentice’s Progressive Conservatives – somehow be able to upset Mr. Kenney’s applecart as well, now that the victor of their 2017 fight to lead the UCP faces an unhappy party and a leadership review in Red Deer next month?
To Albertan ears there’s something dire about the phrase “a leadership review in Red Deer” – the central Alberta city conveniently halfway between Calgary and Edmonton where conservative political careers have been known to go to die.
There’s lots of speculation about how this will all play out, most of it probably pretty idle.
Mr. Kenney appears to be in deep political trouble – unpopular among Albertans according to several recent polls, and in hot water with significant portions of his own party’s base.
But he’s also the party leader, with a bag of tricks that goes with that position and a proven willingness to reach deep into it. Alert readers will recall the things he got up to the last time he wanted to defeat Mr. Jean, Kamikaze candidates, and all that.
And it’s not as if Mr. Kenney and Mr. Jean will be officially squaring off in Red Deer. Mr. Kenney will be fighting for party approval. Mr. Jean will be hanging around the fringes saying he could do better in Mr. Kenney’s office.
A leadership fight would only come later, in the event Mr. Kenney lost the leadership review, or the general election expected in 2023. In such circumstances, Mr. Kenney might fight to hang onto his leadership, or he might not. There are plenty of rumours he might call an early election to avoid a leadership fight he couldn’t win.
Whatever you may think of Mr. Kenney and his policies, don’t count him out in a scrap.
If Mr. Kenney thwarts Mr. Jean’s hopes of supplanting him as premier and then defeating the NDP, will Mr. Jean even stick around to see what happens next? He quit his job as MP for Fort McMurray-Athabasca in 2014 after an unproductive decade in Ottawa; he resigned as MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin in 2018 after losing the UCP leadership to Mr. Kenney. So he’s got a history.
You have to ask if he’s got it in him to hang around in 2023 if he doesn’t manage to replace Mr. Kenney.
And what will the premier do with his rival, so inconveniently returned from the political crypt?
Unsubstantiated rumours yesterday, given a little boost by a well-known political columnist, suggested Mr. Kenney will never even let Mr. Jean join the UCP caucus.
Well, Mr. Jean can’t be sworn in before April 5, and chances are he won’t be sworn in until after Mr. Kenney’s leadership review on April 9.
If Mr. Kenney manages to hang onto his job, it might be fun for him to keep Mr. Jean around. He could let his rival languish on the backbenches, or surprise everyone and put him in cabinet in a ministry that’s sure to keep him too busy to cause mischief.
We’ll just have to wait and see.
Ariana Mancini, the NDP candidate, won 18.4 per cent of the vote with all 61 polls reporting last night. Paul Hinman of the Wildrose Independence Party scraped into two-figure territory with 10.8 per cent.
The rest were all deep in the single digits.
Those results are unofficial.