Progressive Conservative businessmen John Cameron, Paul Verhesen, Doug Goss, Ashif Mawji and Tim Melton in the Melcor boardroom on May 1, 2015, they day they tried to save Alberta’s Progressive Conservative government (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This week, the campaign brain trust for Alberta’s beleaguered premier managed to find 19 old Tory MLAs willing to sign their names to an open letter begging United Conservative Party members not to vote to change horses in mid-stream.*

The first question a lot of Albertans asked when the letter warning UCP members about the terrible things that might happen if they persist with the urge to dump Jason Kenney as party leader first surfaced on social media was, how could they manage to find only 19 old Tories who were prepared to sign the thing?

Former Progressive Conservative MLA and cabinet minister Iris Evans (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

This is a good question, I suppose. But if you consider the subterranean approval ratings Mr. Kenney has been getting lately, a better one might have been, “How did they manage to find so many?

Mr. Kenney’s campaign team must have been so excited when the ex-MLAs agreed to sign up that it could hardly concentrate. Leastways, as more than one political observer pointed out, the first line of the letter was almost incoherent – or at least required the reader to imagine what its missing word or words might be. 

It began: “In only a few days, United Conservatives will begin voting or not they will stand behind Premier Jason Kenney heading into the 2023 provincial election.” 

Say what? 

The signatories – or whoever wrote the epistle for them – went on to beg readers “to think long and hard” before turning thumbs down on Mr. Kenney. 

Former PC MLA David Dorward (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In the nightmare world such a vote would precipitate, they warned, the ridiculous policies Mr. Kenney’s government is racing to enact would grind to a halt, the doomed fight against the federal carbon tax would falter, the almost universally reviled changes to Alberta’s once envied school curriculum would wither, and, worst of all, there would be a “real threat of an NDP government”!

I know that some of you may be thinking, what’s not to like about that? But in the minds of the letter’s authors, this is a Prairie dystopia almost too frightening to contemplate.

One thing the letter most certainly got right was its assertion that under former premier Rachel Notley, Alberta’s NDP Opposition is “disciplined, organized, and well-funded.” 

A few of the names on the letter might carry a little weight – if you’ve got a long memory. 

But in addition to the likes of former cabinet ministers like Shirley McClellan, Iris Evans, and Patricia Nelson – all pretty influential in days of yore – there are non-entities George VanderBurg, Gary Bikman, and Bruce Rowe.

Former PC MLA Mary Anne Jablonski (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The latter pair, in case you were wondering, are former Wildrose MLAs who joined their leader, Danielle Smith, in that party’s notorious walk of shame to the Progressive Conservative benches of the Legislature on Dec. 17, 2014, a day that continues to live in infamy in certain Alberta circles. 

Like Ms. Smith, the Wildrose leader who replaced her, Brian Jean, is campaigning for the leadership of the UCP in the event the members who vote, be they real or imagined, decide to skid Mr. Kenney in the extended mail-in balloting that will start tomorrow and end on May 11. Mr. Jean was sworn in as an MLA yesterday.

The results, the UCP says, will be announced on May 18. 

The remaining names in this epistolary blast from the past were: Wayne Drysdale, Steve Young, Genia Leskiw, Jeff Johnson, Greg Weadick, David Dorward, Mary Anne Jablonski, Alana DeLong, Chrsitine Cusanelli, Shiraz Shariff, Everett McDonald, Dave Quest, and Luke Ouellette. 

Former PC MLA Wayne Drysdale (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Readers will notice no living former Conservative premier joined the list of former Progressive Conservative MLAs who signed on to Mr. Kenney’s bandwagon. Although with the new rules for party elections, there’s no guarantee there won’t be a couple of dead ones. Peter Lougheed? Ralph Klein? C’mon down! 

Given the parlous situation in which Premier Kenney now finds himself – widely disliked by Alberta voters of all stripes, if recent polls are to be believed, and obviously in trouble with his own party – one has to wonder if such a letter will have its intended effect, or quite a different one. 

Who can forget the Campaign of Fear launched in Melcor Developments’ Jasper Avenue headquarters in downtown Edmonton on May 1, 2015, as it started to look as if the NDP might actually be on track win the general election four days later?

Do you remember the dire warnings from the five prominent and well-heeled businessmen at the press conference about what might happen if voters rashly decided to suddenly change course after only 44 years?

Former PC MLA Greg Weadick (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

The five businessmen in the boardroom that day – John Cameron, Paul Verhesen, Doug Goss, Ashif Mawji, and Tim Melton, in the order they sat at the Melcor boardroom table – speculated that Alberta voters weren’t “thinking straight,” called NDP leader Rachel Notley’s policy proposals “amateur,” and complained that New Democrats “do not understand how economics work.”

The effect, as a student of human psychology might have predicted, seems to have been the opposite of that intended. Leastways, voters either ignored the businessmen’s entreaties and voted NDP anyway, or voted that way to spite them. 

It seems quite possible that many members of the UCP now contemplating what to do about their unpopular leader will turn out to be just as likely to listen to the entreaties of 19 mostly forgotten Progressive Conservative MLAs.

*Changing horses in mid-stream is a mainstream political metaphor of declining utility in an era when “ford” is rarely used as a verb and “mid-stream” is a phrase a fellow’s more likely to hear on being handed a small jar at a recently re-privatized diagnostic laboratory, but readers should understand just the same what the author had in mind. 

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  1. Wow. It seems that someone left the gates open at Jurassic Park, because some old Tories got out and are causing a nuisance.

    The first thing I thought when I heard about this letter endorsing Kenney ‘s continued reign of mayhem and destruction is, should old and forgotten politicians stay old and forgotten?

    Apparent this gang of fossils decided that they wanted another kick at the can (and maybe some more patronage c/o Daddy Warbucks) and make some announcement that made them feel important again. Besides, this is likely the same gang of Tories that did in Stelmach and Redford, so they may know a thing or two about turning their blades into a banged-up premier.

    This letter of ringing endorsement notwithstanding, the whole leadership review may be for naught. The online consensus is that Kenney’s hacks oversold the memberships (to the many who still don’t know they are members) so that in-person voting in Red Deer would be impossible. Mail-in voting would be the only option, assuring that the whole messed up process was made even more messed up. As Admiral Ackbar so eloquently put it, “It’s a trap!” and thus is how Kenney threw a whole toolbelt into the leadership review machinery.

    And there’s still another rumor floating around that Kenney has a contingency plan just in case the vote turns against him. He intends to declare that he “rejects the premise” of the vote, declaring it highly questionable, and annuls it by his own divine power. In other words, Kenney intends to triumphantly declare that the UCP morons, bigots, and stupid-heads are stuck with him until the next election. And if they don’t like it, well … Na-nana-naa-nah!

  2. Yeah this list of supposed Kenney supporters is even less impressive than it seems. A who’s who of former politicians, some moderately important at one time, a few more important and some I don’t remember ever being very important.

    One also does wonder where is the who’s who of the current UCP. Why is there not a letter of support from a number of supposedly loyal current cabinet ministers and MLAs? Are they really sitting this out, waiting to see which way the wind is blowing? Do they lack the credibility with the UCP membership that perhaps some of these old timers still have, who strangely seem more from the PC side, not the Wildrose one? Or is Kenney saving them for later?

    I would say its not a good sign that so many of these supposed supporters haven’t been that active in politics for years. Kenney has often been good at making a little go a long way, but there are limits to how far you can stretch it and credibility.

    I would say Kenney is probably more of a danger to the future of the UCP than getting a new different leader. Some current polls support that and many UCP members probably sense he is dragging the party down. So I think it will take more than a nice letter from a collection of mostly political has beens to convince them otherwise.

  3. It would be nice if someone could hack the UCP and spill the real beans on who is actually a member. I for one would like to know if I am on the list. I did love it when the list of UCP donors and the amounts donated was spilled a little while ago. I think we need a little more of that.

  4. I found it interesting that the letter writers even included the new curriculum in their letter it has gotten such bad reviews that I didn’t think anybody considered it an advantage to keeping Kenney. I have wondered if a new leader in the UCP would even keep it.

    1. Bob: As I’ve said before, I believe this is Jason’s hill to die on. He really believes in his curriculum. He is closely allied with the home school/private school/religious school/charter school lobby as a key part of his base. If he abandons everything else in his quest for utopian neoliberal perfection, he will fight to the death on this one. DJC

  5. I remember where I was when the announcement came in that Rachel Notley and the NDP had been elected. I was at a Co-op gas bar, filling up my vehicle (insert nozzle, squeeze handle). I purchased an orange drink to celebrate. I don’t remember most of those names you mentioned.

  6. Oh, no. Please keep Kenney as your leader.
    The best chance for Rachel Notley to win a majority is if bumbles leads the UCP.

    So, please do keep the murder clown. Hopefully, Albertan voters won’t forget how he gutted this province.

  7. I checked with my local mystic, and she said that the number 19 is lucky, and refers to the ‘Sun’ card in the Tarot. I’m going to take a guess that they know this and are pulling out every wishful trick they can in order to win the leadership. The ammolite is supposed to bring luck, prosperity, and well being, which makes it the perfect gemstone for them. Ammolite is also used in meditation to connect with past lives, so it can be their path to connecting with some of those ghosts who bought UCP memberships.

    1. Hmmm, so 19 is “lucky,” according to Tarot (an Asian mystical tradition even more mysterious than the Buddha). Ammolite, admittedly striking to look at, has a mystical power to bring good luck, money and health; I wonder who says that? And connecting to “past lives” is quite a stretch for God-fearing, holier-than-thou evangelical Christians. (What, if anything, did Jesus say about reincarnation?) Ought to blow a few mental fuses when these rumours get started, hey?

  8. You would have to be a damn fool to care about what any of these fools have to say. After all these are the phoney conservatives who helped Ralph Klein , Ed Stelmach, and Allison Redford put us in financial ruin while helping their rich friends screw us out of our of oil and tax wealth and forced us into a lot more privatization.

    Not one was smart enough to suggest that they should be following what Peter Lougheed created for us and need to continue to collect proper royalties and taxes and run this province properly like he did and Alaska and Norway are doing.

    1. Alan K. Spiller: I think you really hit the nail on the head. These pretend conservatives and Reformers will only screw Alberta even further, and make their rich corporate friends richer, while they axe public services, and make Albertans poorer.

      1. Anonymous I certainly wish the former MLAs I got to know were alive to see this . I know what they thought of these MLAs who deliberately destroyed everything they worked so hard to create for the Alberta people. I had lunch with one of them at least once a month for about six years and he kept me up to date on what Klein was doing to us.

        Finally in 2003 he announced that he couldn’t take it anymore and was moving to B.C. He died in 2019 at the age of 93.

  9. “Don’t change horses in mid-stream”. That was the tag line for the corrupt and incompetent incumbent politician’s campaign in the movie Wag the Dog. Jason has already started several faux wars in order to distract voters from his unpopularity (Trudeau’s of any first name, teachers, health care, etc.) Life imitating art…?

  10. Many years ago there was great consternation about drugging of horses for the benefit of certain bettors. One person who was involved in that “business” told me that in order to get around this illegal activity of drugging winners, the alternative was engaged to drug all but the winners.
    Could this be some sort of analogy within the “conservative” movements in Alberta? Maybe there is this little campaign from the older crowd supporting the newer crowd a sense that they need to drug the whole crowd with such warnings of dire circumstances that will shift the race in favour of one “winner” so as to avoid that group of “outsiders” usurping control once again!
    Wonder if Brian Jean will listen? Wonder if the majority of UCPers who want that “winner” gone will listen? As one not prone to bet on ponies or politicians, one has only to watch the drug-fest continue!!

  11. These former MLAs are in the where are they now? category. They were part of a government that did extensive damage to Alberta, or they were part of another government that had the same thinking. Make their rich corporate friends even richer, take an axe to important public services in Alberta, and make Albertans even poorer. These are not the MLAs that we were seeing in the Peter Lougheed government. Peter Lougheed wouldn’t be impressed with the UCP, let alone with this lot of has been politicians, endorsing these pretend conservatives and Reformers in the UCP.

  12. In one of the Edmonton Journal’s “Under the Dome” podcasts with Don Braid and Duane Bratt, both commented on the UCP members lack of trust in the leadership review vote. Don Braid said that he thought the only time people would trust the process was not manipulated is if Jason Kenney lost. Funny that!

  13. “What’s the sense of changing horses in midstream?” is a line from “You’re a Big Girl Now”, on Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks, so it goes back to 1975, at least. Given Dylan’s penchant for fossicking about in the earlier American folk-music canon, maybe even earlier.

  14. I am not a UCP member so I do not care that much. You are correct, the embarrassing part is the names that are not on that memo. That must speak volumes to UCP members.

    Alberta voters will be the ultimate decision makers.

    This is a gong show.

  15. Thinking of this letter again, it seems that while politicians love to extol on the wisdom and virtues of Winston Churchill, few if any actually do what the great man says they should do. Here’s a golden nugget for these Tory fossils …

    “I am never going to have anything more to do with politics or politicians. When this war is over, I shall confine myself entirely to writing and painting.”

    Winston Churchill

  16. I re-read the 2015 post you linked to, and a thought occurred … as so often happens when I read your blog lol.

    If policy “uncertainty” makes business nervous, what about the kind of policy whiplash likely to ensue should the NDP win next year, as Rachel & her team seek to reverse some of the most odious, egregiously ideological policy decisions and legislation during the UCP’s tenure in government?

    To be clear, that’s not a shot. But the deeply ideological, doctrinaire neo-con UCP has made so many bad decisions, no self-respecting ever-so-slightly-left-leaning pragmatic centrist politician like Rachel could avoid rolling back some of those decisions. My prediction is for an orange-tinged “summer of repeal” over the months of June to August, 2023.

    Then, four years later — or eight if our politics morph into something more closely resembling the Canadian norm — will the NDP go down to defeat to a moderate conservative party that won’t go through their record with a scythe? Or will we see an even more doctrinaire proto-fascist cabal bring in an even more radically right- wing agenda? How business-friendly would that be?

  17. A good gander at that list reveals an interesting mixture of anachronism, nostalgia, hubris, opportunism, and fear.

    First past the post is the largest of a plurality among signatories from their respective eras of ProgCon party leaders (that is, premiers), notably the least Tory of the five: the Ralph Klein MLAs whose conservatism was so ‘small-c’ as to be a hair’s breadth from classic neoliberalism. Together with the two dinosaurs from the Don Getty era— the first diminishment of the legendary Lougheed’s progressiveness— these two groups make up eight of the nineteen Casandras, or exactly one-third of the total.

    Back in their day, conservative victory was presumed and understood. Virtually nobody in this cohort was in the arena when citizens gave the PC their thumbs-down judgement in 2015.

    Signatories from Ed Stelmach’s and Allison Redford’s caucuses are a different group—not simply because virtually all of them, altogether nearly half of the signatories, were defeated in the general 2015 slaughter, but also because both these leaders leaned toward the progressive faction —indeed, Redford was a Red Tory but behaved too self-indulgently— as if the brand was unassailable. (She was replaced by former CPC MP Jim Prentice who was said to have left federal politics because Harper couldn’t tolerate such a progressive cabinet minister.) PC MLAs Elected under these relatively progressive conservative leaders weren’t necessarily punished in 2015 for being too Red-Tory, but were more probably condemned by association with a perceived interloper, Jim Prentice, the tragically unsuccessful parachutist leader who easily doubled his offence by looking like a slick backroom dealer when he accepted most of the Wildrose MLAs (including leader Danielle Smith) into the guttering PC caucus. A psephological peculiarity of Canadian voters is that they tend to disapprove of floor crossers of any stripe—they sure did this time, and then some…

    Like tRump, Kenney effectively radicalized the movement to reunite ProgCons and Wildrosers, repelling many of the former by the odium thus cultivated in the latter, eventually dominant faction, starting with the unification drive, his successful UCP leadership contest and provincial election campaigns, and on to his encouragement of the United-We-Roll truckers’ protest convoy early in 2019 and strong support of the federal CPC’s (which nevertheless failed bid to win back power later that year). It’s curious that former PC MLAs of Stelmach’s and Redford’s caucuses would endorse Kenney when nearly all of them were so mercilessly punished by precisely the same faction of voters he ginned to win himself the premiership.

    The letter’s author(s) are quite entitled to their opinion, and theirs is a fair question: is it too risky to change horses midstream? They say no, but predicated on one of the few commonalities they have with the embattled leader of the party so unlike their old one, the guy who zombified it with the viral poison decimating nominal conservative parties almost everywhere they ever used to exist. That common thread is a fabled, mythological past typically dreamed of in dotage—as some of these signatories might have done—an heroic age marked-off by Kenney as the ‘anomaly’ of an NDP government, the accused horrors of which the caped K-Boy saved Alberta from. No one can possibly turn the planet’s clock back now, but that’s hardly the purpose.

    The UCP is so different from the PCs now, its supporters too, it’s hard to say how effective the letter will be in its simplistic appeal to nostalgia, one of the most basic conservative sentiments. It’s pretty plain that many moderate Tory voters have already been converted to more nuanced analyses, not least that the old canard of a fiscally inept NDP is just that. In a way, the letter acknowledges this while indulging in it at the same time. They’re plain about what they want, it doesn’t need to make sense. And keeping Kenney on for any reason really doesn’t make sense for many voters of the right in Alberta.

    One can imagine, looking back at the UCP’s maiden mandate, that if K-Boy is still lashed to his ride after fording midstream for the next four phases of the Moon, many old ProgCons watching from the high, muddy banks on the opposing shore just might reckon Rachel Notley’s NDP government was Red Tory enough for them to give his party a pass as one that can’t be—at least not with him in the saddle.

    he remaining 11% of signatories were defectors from Wildrose who gambled, obviously , that the PC brand was enduring despite the ominous insights they might have recognized as party members of the PCs biggest threat—before, that is, they crossed the floor to Prentice’s ill-fated caretaker government where eventually they, too, were wiped out by an electorate so angry it spited the old regime by electing its stock socialist bogeymen.

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