Brian Jean – once upon a time the leader of the Wildrose Party Opposition and more recently twice an unsuccessful candidate to lead the United Conservative Party – seems to be as energized as that famous battery-powered bunny these days.

Danielle Smith and the late Progressive Conservative premier Jim Prentice on that fateful day in December 2014 (Photo: Dave Cournoyer/Creative Commons).

The UCP MLA for Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche appears to be campaigning hard on behalf of Premier Danielle Smith, about whom he once complained that he had to clean up the mess she left behind as Wildrose leader in December 2014.

That was when she infamously tripped across the floor of the Legislature with eight of her Opposition MLAs in tow to take the hand of premier Jim Prentice and join his Progressive Conservative government. As veteran Alberta political watchers will recall, that move was not just unprecedented, it was controversial to say the least. 

Last fall, as Mr. Jean raced Ms. Smith to lead the United Conservative Party, he told the Calgary Herald, “The turmoil she left was incredible, and the best predictor of the future is the record of the past.” (Emphasis added.)

Well, nobody’s going to fault him now for that diagnosis. 

You’d have to say that Mr. Jean – sporting a new beard that’s a little too grizzled to look hipsterish, which is possible but not easy at 60 – is campaigning almost as hard as he did earlier last year when he won his current seat in a by-election on the novel political platform of getting rid of the sitting premier, Jason Kenney, and replacing him in the province’s top political job. 

Former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney, who beat Mr. Jean to lead the UCP in 2018 and become premier in 2019 (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Back in 2017, Mr. Jean squared off against Mr. Kenney to lead the United Conservative Party. Mr. Kenney may not have beaten Mr. Jean fair and square, but he beat him convincingly in 2018.

Thereafter, Mr. Jean fell off the radar for a spell, as he has from time to time in his political career, which began in 2004 when he was elected as the Member of Parliament for Athabasca. The riding then included the oilsands town of Fort McMurray, where Mr. Jean spent his formative years as the scion of an influential business family

Mr. Jean had grown bored with federal politics and quit in 2014, not long after he had been discovered whiling away the interminable hours in the nation’s capital devising crossword puzzles and mailing them out to his hapless constituents in Canada’s carbon capital. By then the riding had been renamed, but it was pretty much the same real estate. 

He rediscovered his zest for politics in February 2015, after Ms. Smith’s shocking floor crossing, when it looked as if the five remaining shellshocked members of the party’s caucus in the Legislature didn’t know what to do next. Mr. Jean announced he’d seek the unwanted leadership and got it on March 28. 

That’s when he, in his own words, had to clean up Ms. Smith’s mess. 

But if he thought he also had a chance to sashay right into the Premier’s Office in 2015, he had a surprise coming – along with almost everybody else in Alberta. That list would have included Rachel Notley, presumably, who nevertheless led her New Democratic Party to a convincing majority victory on May 5 that year.

Travis Toews, finance minister in the Kenney and Smith governments, whose votes surpassed Mr. Jean’s when they were beaten by Ms. Smith to lead the UCP in 2022 (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

It could have been worse from Mr. Jean’s perspective. He won his own new seat, Fort McMurray-Conklin, and emerged with a caucus of 21 members. He plugged along as Opposition leader until the merger of the Progressive Conservatives, by then led by Mr. Kenney, with the Wildrosers in 2017.

After he was beaten by Mr. Kenney, a savvy former federal cabinet minister and ruthless campaigner, Mr. Jean lost interest in politics again, resigning his seat in the Legislature in March 2018.

This lasted until Mr. Kenney’s popularity began to slip and, sensing opportunity, Mr. Jean was inspired to begin his 2022 campaign to unseat the man who had defeated him in 2017 and replace him. 

Alas for Mr. Jean, it was the unlikely Danielle Smith who eventually emerged as the winner of the race to replace Mr. Kenney, narrowly beating the UCP finance minister, Travis Toews. Mr. Jean finished a disappointing third.

Ms. Smith made up a portfolio for Mr. Jean, and declared him to be the Minister of Jobs, Economy and Northern Development, which also included some of the duties of the labour portfolio – presumably on the reasonable grounds it makes sense to keep your friends close and potential ambitious enemies closer. 

So now is about the time that one would have expected Mr. Jean to get bored again, start creating crossword puzzles again, or maybe decide to spend more time with his bride of seven years, a former staffer in his Parliamentary office in Ottawa, and their young daughter.

Instead, suddenly, he would appear to have become a positive dynamo of electoral enthusiasm.

The most likely explanation, of course, is just the thrill of the contest, and team spirit. 

But could it be that Mr. Jean sniffs something in the air – an unexpected breeze, perhaps, on a hot spring day – signifying more change in the United Conservative Party? 

Who knows what will happen next Monday? Even the pollsters can’t seem to agree

But if by some unexpected turn of fate, the UCP happened to be looking for a new leader soon, Brian Jean would be right there, thinking, Third time’s the charm!

Join the Conversation


  1. Why wait until after the election for the UCP to have a new leader? Do it right now!

    Here’s a great conspiracy plan that would be awesome if it actually happened …

    Danielle Smith, sensing that she is about to lead the UCP to a disastrous show at the polls, or a result that will leave her premiership in peril, cuts deal that will save R-Star. In this deal, Smith agrees to step aside for … cough, cough … heath and personal reasons. She hands the leadership over to the third place finisher, Brian Jean. Jean, in the dying days of the campaign, becomes UCP leader and interim premier (?) and declares that it’s springtime in Alberta. (Again!) This is the level of crazy that the UCP is capable of and I have no problem letting them perform their demented Byzantine machinations. It’s Game of Thrones, baby!

  2. Perhaps if he sticks around long enough, the UCP will eventually run out of other bad leaders and finally pick him – or not.

    I had thought last time might be Jean’s big chance, because surely the UCP couldn’t be foolish enough to give Smith another chance. Well whatever the case is, Smith seems to still be hanging in there despite everything and has not self destructed yet. Although the voters may prove to be even more wary than her party. I suppose we will see soon.

    At this point, perhaps the only strategy remaining for Jean is to stick around and hope Smith somehow manages to yet again snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, sort of like she did in 2012 and 2015.

    If Jean would have bowed out early this time he would look like an unreliable, flighty, fairweather friend. So he can only hope for her to stumble while trying to come across as a loyal team player.

    However if Smith does not do well in the election, I suspect there will be several other UCPers also wanting to take over, starting with the perhaps more capable former Finance Minister. So, I’m not sure it will actually ever get any better for Jean.

  3. Perhaps I missed it, but what’s your take on the Griffiths-Lukaszuk video endorsing NDP candidates? Just stirring up s**t or jockeying for a leadership run if DS flames out?

  4. I think a retired lawyer was right when he said “ Lawyers who fail at being lawyers turn to politics to help their friends screw the people out of the their money, like these Reformers are doing. There are exceptions like Peter Lougheed and Rachel Notley who definitely cared about the people’s wellbeing and fought to make things better. There is no question Brian Jean is a Reformer. He is all about helping the rich steal Albertans oil and tax wealth. But what would you expect from a guy from Fort McMurray. He is so two faced bashing Smith on one hand and kissing her ass on the other and proves that filling his pockets with taxpayers money is all he cares about. He was such a great liar as leader of the Wildrose Party that people elected Jason Kenney instead as leader of the UCP. He told us we shouldn’t be collecting any royalties but couldn’t explain how he would replace the lost revenues, of course it was by privatization of healthcare and education services, because that’s what the Reform Party’s Mandate has always been. Now he is bashing Notley for doing the right thing and suggesting she increase corporate taxes, ignoring the fact that taxes were 15% under Lougheed and royalties were 32% higher than they are now, and the province was being run properly. You would have to be a damn fool to think Jean’s plan would accomplish anything, other than increase the horrible mess we are in.

  5. Tone deaf or what?

    One would think Brian Jean has the message by now. How many times does it have to be delivered to him.

    If the UCP looses the election I agree that there is a very good chance that the Party will divide.

    If the UCP wins the election, I agree with the pundits. Danielle Smith will be out the door within nine months.

    This is not the UCP Party. It is the TBA Party.

    One sign down on our cul de sac, a new one popped up on another lawn.

  6. Danielle all over da map, let me clarify . . . won the leadership by 52%, so that’s a pretty tippy perch if she wins government by a small number of seats. Brian Jean if he understands Machiavelli will let others knife Smith after a loss or small win. He can then run for leader with no blood on his hands, and try to mix together the oil and water party that Kenney built. However, I would remind readers that oil and water do not mix, but they do emulsify, but only after violent shaking and mixing.

  7. I wonder, has he kneeled and kissed the ring of David Parker? Ohhh what tangled webs they weave!

  8. Alberta was one of the most staid sovereign jurisdictions of all its ten federated partners. One of its political parties governed for nearly four-and-a-half decades, preceded by another conservative party’s 36 years in power—a petroleum age preceded by a horse-and-wagon age, where the past was the future: pasture, grain, and resource extraction, as steady, reliable, and gainful as the passing of the seasons, year after year.

    Then somebody said, “Meat stinks,” and that smoking bitumen wasn’t healthy and, boom, that started a dissident movement with its crazy ideas about new ways of keeping the old ways, and its zany personalities —freedom-loving anti-abortionists, law-and-order libertarians, anti-vaxxer pole-axers, SoCon neoliberals, and semi-truck parliamentarians. And then ducks rippled the well-oiled surface of the political pond that had always settled matters quietly hitherto.

    They grow up so fast, don’t they? In spite of all the milestones sideswiped so far it’s still hard to believe that the little girl who only yesterday, it seems, was being schooled at a school board, or the young woman who graduated from U of Talk Radio, or the middle-aged caretaker premier, stands before us now as a political teenager, that most difficult age.

    Since 2008, life seems to have gone by in a blur, but it’s hardly surprising that the past several years have been politically psycho in the once placid prairie province. It’s the same old story: Danielle Smith, fostered in two broken home parties only to end up in a third started experimenting with political hallucinogens early and promiscuously hanging around with local hoods—now a full-on rebel, not always cogent but ready to fight for things not always cogent. Danielle’s law is breaking laws.

    If the past four years feels like a bad acid trip, Alberta must have peaked in the last seven months. By May 30, when rainbow-filmed pupils look nauseously at aching cheeks in the mirror and wonder what was so funny, Albertans will start to crash with a litre of orange juice while iridescent little animals dart out of peripheral view like fireworks, and that musty pong of ergot poisoning overwhelms the synapses. That’s when the night-trippers will need the bristling Brian Jean, human bottlebrush, to scrub away that post-psychedelic grunge. He just needs to be re-wound several times to get it all done.

    Like most adults would say of puberty, it’s interesting, indeed parts of it remain cherished memories, but they wouldn’t want to do it again. The same can be said about experimenting with hallucinogens, whether psychotropic or political —or both. They’re prescribed now for reducing end-of-life anxiety; they always gave new insights to the hitherto commonplace or hopeless; but high-school indulgers who never seem to grow up usually retreat to the basement of Wayne’s World subculture and are of little trouble most of the time. I sincerely hope that if Dani with the wild rose tat and scrubberman Jean are fixing for a rumble that they have a little consideration and do it out behind the barn: respect the peace and mind-expanded afterglow Albertans deserve.

    And it would be adult to let another party run the great province of Alberta while they’re at it.

    1. Scotty: love hallucinogens analogy, with the behind the barn ending. What a lovely vision.

  9. Oh I hope I don’t have to see those ramifications of grief ,losing a child ,lawsuits and tears ,House burnt down ,dog ran away ,hard to watch leaders grief

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