If the leading candidates in the long race to replace Jason Kenney as leader of Alberta's 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.
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 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 Leela Aheer, Jon Horsman, Todd Loewen, Bill Rock or Rajan Sawhney, have little 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 Tuesday cleverly called the “bonus fake candidate,” only mainstream media pretend he’s a real candidate.
Consider 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 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 Jean actually sounds like the sensible one compared to Smith, the other former Wildrose leader.
At least Jean seemed to recognize that you can’t just make up a magical laws to suit yourself, as Smith, 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, Smith doesn’t seem to mind if 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.
To give credit where credit is due, Smith may not be exactly explaining her 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 Toews and 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 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 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!
Back in the 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 — Redford when she bungled her term as Conservative premier and 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 Redford’s success in the 2011 leadership campaign on progressive but somewhat conservative voters who joined the Progressive Conservatives to keep the likes of austerity advocate Ted Morton, the worst premier Alberta never had, out of power.
They blamed the rise of Notley, in turn, on 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.
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