If the leading candidates in the long race to replace Jason Kenney as leader of the United Conservative Party have proved anything, it’s that there’s no truth to the old saw you can run, but you can’t hide. 

UCP leadership candidate Brian Jean during the Cow Palace debate (Photo: Screenshot of Mountain View Freedom video).

On the contrary, several of the candidates with profiles high enough to be considered potential winners – you can’t exactly call them all “credible” in the normal sense of that word – are doing quite nicely at running and hiding at the same time, thank you very much.

Ordinary Albertans, not necessarily the UCP members who get to have a say in who becomes the next leader of the governing party and ipso facto the next premier, have questions they need answered about the policies of Brian Jean, Danielle Smith, Travis Toews, and Rebecca Schulz, the four candidates who have a chance of winning.

Let’s just pause here to state forcefully if unkindly that none of Leela Aheer, Jon Horsman, Todd Loewen, Bill Rock, or Rajan Sawhney, have much of a chance of influencing this race, let alone winning it. 

And as for the ludicrous former Alberta Liberal leader Raj Sherman, who independent journalist Jeremy Appel yesterday cleverly called the “bonus fake candidate,” only mainstream media pretend he’s a real candidate. 

But good luck getting any of the Big Four candidates to say anything outside the tightly controlled confines of campaign events and social media releases. 

Leadership candidate Danielle Smith during the Cow Palace debate (Photo: Screenshot of Mountain View Freedom video).

Consider Brian Jean’s strange musings about the pandemic at the shouty candidates’ forum in the Cow Palace in the town of Olds sponsored by a vaccine-skeptical group called Mountain View Freedom on June 27: “COVID killed people, a lot of people,” he bellowed. “But so did the vaccine! So did the mandates!”

Does he really believe that? I don’t think anyone’s had a chance to ask. 

Then there was Mr. Jean’s confusing proposal to remove the royalty on oil or bitumen refined into gasoline or diesel in Alberta.

How’s that supposed to deliver the retail gasoline cost reductions of 15 cents per litre he promises when the companies benefiting from the break may be neither the refiner nor the retailer? Will the royalty holiday be temporary or permanent? How would he replace the lost revenue? 

When I asked a few days ago, all I got back was crickets. 

And Mr. Jean actually sounds like the sensible one compared to the other former Wildrose leader, Ms. Smith. 

Leadership Candidate Travis Toews (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

At least Mr. Jean seemed to recognize that you can’t just make up a magical laws to suit yourself, as the sometime talk show host and Fraser Institute apparatchik proposes. 

“If you start going down that path of ignoring the rule of law and picking and choosing your laws,” he warned, “it’s called anarchy.” (He probably lost a couple of supporters among the folks in the Cow Palace for that one.) 

For her part, Ms. Smith doesn’t seem to mind of anyone hears her promising to impose a decree to end federal law enforcement in Alberta, ignore national vaccine requirements, and refuse to turn over fugitives to courts in other provinces if she decides they’re “political prisoners” like the convoy protesters who won’t obey their bail conditions.

And then there’s her notion we should make Alberta a sanctuary for right-wing extremist publications. “We’re going to have a safe haven here so that all those news outlets know they have a place to go,” she shouted.

Leadership candidate Rebecca Schulz (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Well, to give credit where credit is due, Ms. Smith may not be exactly explaining how her ideas are supposed to work, but at least she’s not hiding how far out on the fringe she is. If nothing else, it may sell Substack subscriptions when the race is over. 

As for Mr. Toews and Ms. Schulz, neither of them put in an appearance at the Cow Palace, so the members of the party base who showed up to cheer the others were deprived of their insights too. 

But Mr. Toews doesn’t exactly seem to be rushing to answer media questions about that $4 billion in federal COVID-response funds the auditor general says he seems to have misplaced while he was finance minister or to explain his relationship with the anti-abortion group that campaigned for him in the lead-up to the 2019 election.

As for Ms. Schulz, we know precious little about what she thinks about anything, or why as social services minister she said nothing about cuts to Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped or had government lawyers go to court to prematurely terminate benefits and support payments for young adults in care. It would be nice to have the chance to ask!

Soon-to-depart Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Back in olden days, a decade or two ago, the now-defunct Progressive Conservative Party used to encourage every Albertan and their parakeet to join the party to choose their leader on the not unreasonable grounds at the time that Alberta general elections were meaningless sure bets and the leadership vote was the only way to have any influence on how Alberta was run. 

Alas for the Conservatives, Alison Redford and Rachel Notley put an end to that – Ms. Redford when she bungled her term as PC premier and Ms. Notley when her New Democrats won the 2015 election.

When the UCP emerged as the government after the 2019 general election, its inner circle blamed Ms. Redford’s success in the 2011 leadership campaign on progressive but somewhat conservative voters who joined the PCs to keep the likes of austerity advocate Ted Morton, the worst premier Alberta never had, out of power. 

They blamed the rise of Ms. Notley, in turn, on Ms. Redford’s troubled tenure.

They were determined never to let outsiders exert a moderating influence on the new UCP’s internal choices again. 

Now the UCP is an increasingly radicalized party in the Republican mould, and the rest of us are just going to have to live with whomever they choose – for a while, anyway.

And that’s why Conservative politicians in Alberta want to run and hide at the same time. 

Join the Conversation


    1. Harebell: Of course not. Alas, typos happen. Especially, this one, which for some reason happens to me a lot. Thanks to you and the others for pointing it out. It’s been fixed. DJC

  1. Pretend conservatives and Reformers, who do the most priciest shenanigans, which cost Alberta billions of dollars, hack essential services to bits, just so they can have the excuse to privatize it, and lay the blame on others when it all goes awry. I don’t understand why Albertans never had enough of this nonsense. They keep coming back for more. Peter Lougheed never was like this bunch. What does it take for Albertans to come to their senses? Just what will it take for that to happen?

  2. The UCP leadership race does seem to be shaping up like their federal cousins’ CPC seemingly perpetual search for a leader: court the nut job vote to gain the leadership, then wonder how to dissociate from the nut jobs while campaigning in the general election. Andrew Scheer did not dissociate and lost; his party dumped him. Erin O’Toole turned his back on the nut jobs and lost; his party dumped him. It will be interesting to see what Skippy will do if he does indeed prevail in the CPC race. Assuming the Liberal – NDP arrangement holds, Mr. Poilievre will at least have a few years to sell himself to the general public.

    You really have to feel sorry for the moderate conservative Alberta voter in 2023 if they have to choose between the despised NDP or an ivermectin advocate.

    1. Skippy “paw patrol” Pawliver was out here in the capital city of Alberta for a photo op w a butcher shop who was proud of his stance on small business.

      Walked past yesterday and that space is FOR LEASE. If all the CPC can come up w is this wood stroking idiot they don’t have a chance in hell of defeating the federal NDP, let alone the Trudeau /Freeland neoliberals.

      It’s going to be a long few years in federal politics.

  3. “COVID killed people, a lot of people. But so did the vaccine! So did the mandates!” So declares Candidate Jean. The government website alberta.ca reports 4,621 Covid deaths as of June 27, 2002. As a service to his fellow Albertans, Brian should order his research staff to find accurate numbers of those who died from the vaccine and the mandates and forward them to Alberta Politics.

  4. This increasing and unstoppable move further and further to the right by the UCP does not surprise me. Looking south of the Medicine Line, the Republican Party is becoming more and more like Donald Trump’s cult of personality. Looking beyond this year’s mid-term elections, which are expected to be an unprecedented wipe-out for the Democrats, the 2024 Presidential Elections could see the return of Trump. Already the presumptive front-runner, Gov. DeSantis is coming under attack by Trump and his favored media outlets. (Not Foxnews, btw.) What appears to be an unfolding civil war in the GOP will not be much more than the party going full-crazy. Given the increasing appearance that the US is entering the ‘Summer of the Gun’ the political and social turbulence there will lead to overflow into Canada.

    Skippy Pollivere hasn’t ramped up on the crazy, yet. But it’s beginning to appear that he may not have to, as his frequent dog whistles have done their work and called the loonies back from the PPC. (Who knows? Maybe Maxime Bernier as well.)
    Now that we have Danielle Smith boasting that Alberta should become a right-wing sanctuary for every wing nut on the planet, we know that the foaming at the mouth crowd will become that much more prolific in the weeks to come.

    All this proves is that the throughly unhinged as ready to make their voices heard and want the political leadership they support to be equally demented. Now that Brian Jean has tread down the well worn path that Danielle Smith had made, the march further into the crazy will be that much deeper and more impressive. I fully expect the flat earthers and ancient astronaut theorists to join the UCP’s clown car as it rolls into every single Alberta backwater burg to promote any conspiracy theory de jour.

  5. For us older types that remember, Barnum and Bailey would have trouble keeping up with this circus. It looks to me like they are trying for installment 3 of Dumb and Dumber!

    1. I get where you’re coming from and it’s really disheartening to me. I’ve put a ton of time and effort into learning things because I thought if I knew enough I could share that knowledge and we could work towards better futures. I can get out a dictionary and read definitions of dictator and communist, but I can’t convince fully functional adults that it is absurd to call Trudeau and Singh communist dictators. I don’t care at all whether they like or dislike those politicians but their stated reasons are discouraging, to say the least. This isn’t randos and trolls on the internet, it is close family members I have known for my entire life. What is the point of trying to know anything anymore? It just means I get drowned out by people who were reasonable adults 20 years ago but now believe in Jewish space lasers and such. These people are perfectly intelligent yet insist on believing absurdities and I can’t even reach the individuals I’ve known my while life. I’m not even trying to change their minds, just give them basic facts. I am at my wits end.

  6. Only thing that comes to mind, actually, almost immediately, is that song line, “Running on empty”!

  7. (Slightly confused, shaking head) Lots of news for a sleepy July 6th. Perhaps defeated UCP candidates could support BJ in his attempt to remain King of England. He needs a financially astute right hand, Travis. And speaking of money….. the Pierre Poilievre show will stop by Chateau Wilson for a cash pit stop. Will Brown wash his windscreen? After all, butter is simply milk and fat dropped into a whirlwind of lies and false hopes. Curiouser and curiouser.

    1. Let me complete the allusion: buttermaking (I was the buttermaker’s assistant at an old Edmonton dairy in the 70s) can allude to retrogressive policy and politics: at least once a week we received cream from a Hutterite colony nearby; without electric refrigeration, the cream was disqualified for any use but butter; particularly during warm weather, whole cans of cream would be in just about any condition imaginable —from watery to chunky to solid, from white to green, grey, black—even bright red; a sample from each can was ladled into a little laboratory glass milk bottles, the grader classifying each by smell or taste (with plenty of steam, boiling hot water, hoses and gutters, frequent puking was normal when these loads came into the creamery); the cans were then inverted over a hole in the floor through which the contents dropped into the butter factory, one storey below where the oft-fetid sludge was boiled for 24 hours before churning (since fat boils at a higher temperature than water, the heat gradually exceeds 212ºF, and the smell, first thing in the morning, often exceeded nauseam maximum); incredibly, the sludge-of-many-colours renders to white after such treatment; it is churned in a giant, rotating, stainless-steel barrel suspended from the ceiling, salt and annatto added after the whey is drained off; after a day of tempering in the cooler, the butter is pressed into one-pound, foil-wrapped blocks, packed into boxes, tempered again, then frozen for shipping.

      The political allusion is to the politics of people not knowing what, exactly, the product they are consuming is made of, nor what lengths are taken to make the anachronism of an isolated polity palatable.

      Occasionally—indeed, rarely—we’d get beautiful, sweet and clean jersey cream to make butter with, but only we workers were privy to it and could arrange to buy a crate of it at discount, deducted from our paycheques. Call it insider cronyism, if you like.

      1. Thank you Butterman for completing the illusion. May I add that Alberta politics, like the quintessential 1960’s box of colourless margarine, needs a bit of orange added to the mix!

  8. This is in all of Canada. Someone who can read should point this out to Brian Jean et al.

    Up to and including May 27, 2022, a total of 345 reports with an outcome of death were reported following vaccination. Although these deaths occurred after being vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine, they are not necessarily related to the vaccine. Based on the medical case review using the WHO-UMC causality assessment categories, it has been determined that:
    187 reports of deaths could not be assessed due to insufficient information
    109 reports of deaths are unlikely linked to a COVID-19 vaccine
    49 reports of death are still under investigation

    Data notes

    The data presented in this report are estimates and may not accurately represent national COVID-19 vaccine adverse events following immunization for the following reasons:

    There may be delays in receiving reporting forms and processing reporting forms which may contribute to variations in the amount of reports presented between postings. These delays may be due to jurisdictions investigating and reviewing each adverse event before submitting the information to PHAC. There are also limitations to reporting practices such as underreporting, missing information, and differing adverse event reporting practices across jurisdictions in Canada.
    Each posting, we update the historical data to include any delayed reporting forms from earlier weeks.
    Information is collected on individuals for whom an report was submitted, not on the total number of individuals who experience an adverse event as not every adverse event is reported.
    New information in this report may not be comprehensive but rather represents preliminary results of data received since the last posting.
    Reporting jurisdictions may refer to gender as opposed to sex.
    Information on COVID-19 vaccine doses administered are obtained from provincial and territorial partners or their websites. More details on the number of COVID-19 vaccine doses administered, please consult the COVID-19 vaccination coverage webpage.
    The data presented in this report represent combined numbers from both CAEFISS and the Canada Vigilance program. Canada Vigilance receives reports directly from vaccine manufacturers, healthcare professionals and consumers. CAEFISS receives reports from regional public health authorities. Although data from these 2 surveillance systems are carefully merged together, the individual programs are subject to different reporting requirements and definitions. It is also possible that the report contains duplicate reports.
    Adverse events of special interest are assessed according to the Brighton Collaboration level of diagnostic certainty (if available).
    Please note, the adverse event and AESI numbers in Figure 4 and Table 1 may be adjusted following medical case review.
    For adverse events with low counts (less than 10) or incomplete data on doses administered, rates will not be provided.


    This monthly report would not be possible without the collaboration of federal, provincial and territorial public health partners as well as everyone taking part in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout in Canada.

    We would also like to thank everyone who took the time to submit an adverse event report for their contribution to vaccine safety in Canada.
    Suggested citation

    Public Health Agency of Canada. Canadian COVID-19 vaccination safety report. Ottawa: Public Health Agency of Canada; June 27, 2022. https://health-infobase.canada.ca/covid-19/vaccine-safety/

  9. The potential comeback of Smith is interesting. She demonstrated terrible political judgment that helped bring an over 40 year PC regime to its end. Some Conservatives now seem to be willing to overlook this. Perhaps she will do better this time, or not. Perhaps the next Alberta election will be won in places like Olds, or not.

    Maybe Smith, or whoever else may win, can pivot to sound more moderate before the next election, but it is a tricky thing. It sure didn’t work so well for Erin O’Toole and the Federal Conservatives the last time it was tried. Ms. Smith also had trouble convincing Albertans she was moderate before, so much so she abandoned her party thinking they were the problem, well maybe they were not entirely. It could be that the candidates who were absent from this event were the wiser ones, the Mountain View air sure does seem to encourage some to say crazy things, if someone has to pick up the pieces after another Smith debacle.

    I believe Canadian Conservatives are currently suffering from envy of the success of their Republican colleagues in the US. The Republicans despite their extremist views, losing the Presidency and Congress, do currently seem close to potentially regaining it. Of course what works in the US may not work as well in Canada, but angry populism seems in fashion these days, both with the perennial opposition Federal Conservatives, and with some in the Alberta UCP.

  10. Some provincial governments are so dominated by one party that political engagement with citizens is barely partisan, and popular policy proposals have to be elicited during campaigns for leadership, by-elections and general elections—which all tend to look like party policy conventions in pluralistic jurisdictions. The 44-year ProgCon dynasty in Alberta is cited above, but other examples might include Premier Frank McKenna’s Liberal government in New Brunswick which swept all opposition candidates away in the 1987 general election—only the second time this happened since PEI’s 1935 election (another Liberal sweep). McKenna appointed one of his own caucus to function as a “loyal opposition” (although another near-sweep by the unaffiliated, neo-rightist BC Liberals (scion of the defunct BC Socreds)—77 seats against the defeated incumbent NDP government’s two seats—in which premier Gordon Campbell so preferred to sustain hyper-partisan enmity that he refused the two NDP MLAs official party status, let alone official opposition, and maintained a regular propaganda campaign against the rival party for the BC Liberals’ entire, 16-year regime which included a number of infamously perfidious stealth policies committed during that single term when the BC government was a de facto one-party jurisdiction; that is, it presented the NDP as a foil in order to conceal and distract from ulteriorly-motivated policies voters were not apprised of).

    The most pertinent tell that the increasingly discredited neo-right movement (globalizing neoliberals usurp moribund traditional Tory parties and dupe support by way of stock große Lüge —“Big Lie”— demagoguery while cleverly undermining the very mores traditional Tories used to proclaim) is entertaining full-on Redoubterism (retreat to an easily defended position in rough terrain in order to recuperate strength and return to seek self-justified revenge for alleged deprivation of an “heroic~” or “golden age”) is the way it behaves as if its polity is a one-party state—the kind it now openly aspires to.

    tRumpublicans, for example, cultivate the notion that not only was the 2020 US federal election rigged against them and therefore illegitimate, but also that its rival Democratic Party is itself illegitimate—that is, as if the only legitimate government is a one-party, or totalitarian, tRumpublican state. “If you don’t love it, leave it…”— one of a gaggle of its typical demagoguery. Indeed, GOP primary races have seen some candidates demand that any contender be disqualified if chi doesn’t expressly endorse the thoroughly disproved claim that Democratic President Joe Biden won by cheating.

    That demand brings the GOP perilously close to the totalitarianism of Hitler, Stalin, or Kim Jong-Un; in fact, many traditional Republican voters are as afraid to criticize this incremental descent into totalitarianism as most GOP candidates are: like German voters under the Nazis regime, they fear retribution if they don’t cheer the leader, shout the slogans and sing the paeans on-cue. And of course their policy proposals are not welcome—nor safe to express.

    How closely is the UCP yoke hitched to American tRumpublicanism? It certainly has more potential to cultivate one-party-rule notions: the sum of eight decades of provincial government is of only two parties, Socred and ProgCon. However, that potential has been considerably diminished by demographic change, conservative intransigence, and the resultant evolution of a viable alternative in the Alberta NDP.

    Thus, the one-party state the UCP appears to aspire to must be a cosplay affair imagined in its own, exclusive theatre of the absurd, typically performed at members-only rallies (normal for party leadership contests, but not—with exception of the neo-right—for campaigns nominally “general” in nature and intent), and requiring applause, not critical or constructive contribution of ideas—or at least not anything that doesn’t signal the supposed virtue of the “True Believer.”

    So, BJ, DS, or any other leadership candidate has cher slogans and paeans, each with its arcane—nay, absurd—rationale: take your pick and it’s all good in the fantasy world of the circled wagon laager where, presumably, a candidate may hide cher real agenda for the sake of hallucinatory unity.

    The problem for all neo-right parties in the Western World is that, despite its absurdist Utopianism (the kind that accuses its rivals of Utopianism whilst its own is branded as “Freedom”), realities lurk within and without the party, the latter being the rub where the runner can no longer be a hider like chi was inside the cultic laager: cƒ Erin O’Toole or, for that matter, Maxime Bernier, PPC party leader who hived off of the CPC after winning virtually half of the CPC membership’s leadership endorsements. That is, you can run and hide inside the fabulous bardic circle, but you can’t hide when running outside in the general election campaign. It might even be that hiding is salutary inside the wagon laager, but it’s virtual certainty that the general campaign does not reward any candidate who runs on a platform of hidden agendas.

    It might even seem expedient for a candidate seeking leadership of one of these discredited neo-right parties to ape tRumpublicanism to the captured partisan audience, but adopt an ostensibly ‘open’ posture once the leadership has been secured, as many now wonder about Pierre “The Puke” Poilievre’s bid to woo radicals in the CPC. But in both the UCP’s and the CPC’s cases, existential risks lurk within and along these parties’ sutured seams stitching together the Frankenstein assemblages of their respective halves. Affecting a look of total unity is doubtlessly advisable for any party on general campaign and, if the UCP (or, for that matter, the CPC) can elect a leader both of its founding factions will be loyal to, its problems will themselves be halved.

    But that’s the thing: in the circumstance of having less than a year left in the UCP’s maiden mandate (barring an improbable attempt to extend the term to the constitutional five, instead of statutory four years), it will be difficult for general voters to tell if such loyalty really exists—or if the hiding is still trying to hide inside the running.

    The second big problem, the general election upcoming, will almost certainly feature the very viable NDP leader simply asking what the UCP has to hide. While whomever is UCP leader either tries to assuage fears about a hidden agenda ( coming from both within and without the party’s support base), the challenger may simply ask the perfect rhetorical question: what do you think the NDP has to hide? Along with the rejoinder that circumstances make very difficult for the UCP leader to parry: “prove it.”

  11. Number one cause of death in Alberta is unknown causes. Number two is dementia and number three is covid-19. When this is your team’s mess what else can you do but hide.

  12. As I was washing the scent of skunk off my dog last night, it occurred to me that this is the perfect metaphor for politics in Alberta right now.

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