Friday, 17 June 2022

The Leader We Need: How to Choose the Next Alberta UCP Leader

The UCP leadership race is heating up.  There are now eight contestants and a ninth kicking the tires.  More will likely show up in the coming weeks.  So far, none of them has said what he or she needs to say in order to fix the profound brokenness of this party; a party that calls itself united.

It appears that the way that elections are run in recent decades is that candidates present their positions and voters are expected to line up behind the candidate whose positions most closely resemble their own.  This is precisely what needs to stop.  We do not need a leader who has all the right positions. Rather, we need a leader who can unite people with differing positions.

Furthermore, we need a leader who looks to the grassroots membership of the party for a platform.  The United Conservative Party has a policy declaration which, perhaps inadequately, expresses the wishes of the party membership regarding the direction of a United Conservative government.  Rather than presenting to members a slate of initiatives that are true to this direction, candidates are each presenting their own competing policy declaration from which members must choose. We need a leader who has the humility to prefer the voice of the membership over his or her own. We need a leader with the ingenuity to package and sell the the masses the thoughts and the principles articulated and agreed upon by the membership.

When eventually a candidate is elected, I fear that person will expect the party to bend in accordance with his or her wishes.  We have seen this most obviously demonstrated in the person of Justin Trudeau.  Disagreement with the leader is not permitted in the Liberal Party of Canada.  Recently, Erin O’Toole was ousted from the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada because he failed to include other voices in decision making.  Both Trudeau and O’Toole are seen as egotists who seek to have their respective parties shaped in their image.  That works in the Liberal Party.  It does not work in a conservative party.

Members of the United Conservative Party, from the beginning, were promised a broad tent conservative party that welcomes every type of conservative.  Whether you are a fiscal conservative, a social conservative, a liberal conservative, a traditionalist conservative, a progressive conservative, or a libertarian, this party was supposed to be your home.  This promise has never been delivered on.  The preeminent error of the first leader of the party is failing to view unity as a long and painful process as opposed to an accomplishment reached on the occasion of the unity vote. We need to replace Jason Kenney with someone who can deliver on that promise.

Will any of the candidates say in bold humility, “My positions are not the focus of my campaign?’  “The job of a leader is to bring people and ideas together.  Don’t vote for me because my ideas are better than those of the other person.  Vote for me because the ideas of others are important to me.  They will be important to our cabinet and our caucus.”  The leader we need is a team player who promises to be a team leader.

Some of the folks running for the top job have already distinguished themselves as poor team players.  They revolted against Mr. Kenney and in doing so relinquished any hope of being a voice at the table on behalf of their constituents.  Their lack of ability to demonstrate patience and self-control considerably damaged the party and the possibility of unity within the party.

Some of the candidates are seen as Kenney devotees who would not dare to stand up to him. It is difficult to assess how fair such an allegation might be.  Should everyone in Kenney’s circle be disqualified on the assumption that the only way to remain in that circle was to compromise one’s integrity?  The question is, “Was it a sign of weakness or strength to remain in Mr. Kenney's good graces?  It is unclear whether or not a member of the current inner circle can unite the party. It's worth maintaining an open mind.

What we can do now is listen to what each candidate says. Listen for the use of the word ‘I’ when ‘we’ would be a better choice.  Listen for a litany of position statements when an indication of a team building disposition is what we need.  Listen for ideas that are not represented in the party policy declaration or even contradict it in some way.  Listen for assertions that the candidate wants to take the party in a certain direction when we need someone who will guide us in finding directions together.

In all of this I am in no way contending that the political and philosophical positions of the leader are entirely unimportant. It is expected that the foundational beliefs expressed in the UCP Statement of Principles will be wholly and enthusiastically embraced.  These include support for strong families, freedom of speech, school choice, freedom of worship and assembly, a market economy, property rights, small government, balanced budgets, responsible use of tax dollars, and use of natural resources for the benefit of all Albertans.  These are principles to be honoured by everyone in the ‘big tent’.  The right leader for our party is someone who insists that our party is the rightful political home for everyone who holds to these principles.

How do we do that?  We start by selecting a leader who invites good ideas to come from all corners of the party.  We need a leader who can preside over civil, respectful, and productive conversations among a group where social conservatives, progressive conservatives, and libertarians are all sitting at the table, and are all worthy of meaningful roles.  And more than that, the leader presides over a table where varied ideas come together and fleurish because the leader is not dictating the direction.

As we make our way through this leadership race I will be looking for a person who can bring people together, and in doing so unites the conservative movement in Alberta so that at long last we might be true to our name. So far, no-one has said what they need to say in order to secure my vote. But I trust, perhaps naively, that someone will stand up for the big blue tent.

Saturday, 4 June 2022

An Open Letter to the UCP Government of Alberta and the ATA

To Whom it Concerns

I am a member of both the ATA and the UCP.  Within both the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the United Conservative Party I have sought to advocate for the other organization.  I am viewed suspiciously in both.  It shouldn’t be like that.  Both the provincial government and the ATA have a legitimate role to play with respect to education in this province.  I believe that both organizations fail to recognize and honour this simple fact.

It did not take long for the UCP and the ATA to find themselves on a collision course with one another.  Prior to the UCP being elected the rhetoric among members of the ATA leadership was decidedly negative.  Jason Kenney fanned the flames of discord with criticism of the provincial curriculum which was written primarily by teachers.

Early in the government’s mandate it unilaterally decided to move the management of the teachers pension plan from the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund to the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo).  Late last year the ATRF regained control of investment direction with respect to these pension funds.

Recently the government passed Bill 15 which takes responsibility for teacher discipline from the ATA and gives it to a commissioner working at arms length from the government and at more than an arms length from the ATA.  

It is interesting to compare the United Conservative Policy Declaration to these actions by the United Conservative government.  The party policy book includes the following propositions:

  • divide the two main arms of the Alberta Teachers Association, union and professional body, into two separate and independent organisations

  • prohibit any professional body charged with regulating Teacher/Principal certification or professional conduct and practice from conducting activities related to:

    • collective bargaining;

    • the administration of a collection agreement; or

    • any matter under the jurisdiction of the Labour Relations Board

  • create a self- governing professional regulatory association for Alberta Teachers that is responsible for Teacher/Principal

    • certification;

    • professional conduct and practice

    • professional qualifications

    • continuing teacher competency

The Policy Declaration makes no mention of the teachers’ pension plan and it does not suggest taking discipline out of the hands of the teachers.  These were actions of the government which were not in concert with the directions of grassroots members of the party as expressed in policy.  Furthermore, neither of these actions formed part of the UCP election platform in 2019.

While many teachers expressed displeasure with the idea of separating the collective bargaining function from the professional functions of the ATA, these UCP grassroots proposals still leave the responsibility for discipline, certification, qualification, professional conduct, and professional development with teachers.  There is no notion of an arms length commissioner to be found in the policy declaration.  In fact, there is nothing in the proposal that prevents the two new organizations from collaborating or even both maintaining offices at Barnett House (ATA headquarters).

There is an argument to be made that it is the collective bargaining function alone that strains the relationship between the ATA and the government.  It is possible to imagine a self-governing professional association to which every teacher in the province must belong in order to practice teaching in Alberta.  That is not presently the case.  Private school teachers, for example, do not have to belong to a self-governing professional organization, association, or society in order to practice their profession.  A professional organization, unencumbered by the tensions of collective bargaining, can maintain good and fruitful relations with the government, regardless of which party holds a majority of seats in the legislature.  This sort of teachers’ association could work with the government on such things as curriculum, class size, innovation, etc.  This sort of organization could command respect for the teaching profession in a way that a collective bargaining unit cannot.

Teachers have a rightful interest in educational matters in the same way that lawyers have an interest in the court system and doctors are concerned about the healthcare system.  Similarly, the government is elected by the people and does have rightful jurisdiction over education in the province.  It is not only right for teachers to respect that, but it is wise to acknowledge it.  When a new government is elected, it would be wise for a professional teachers’ association to listen carefully to the priorities of the new government and lend a hand with building the best education system possible while respecting those priorities.  It is time that teachers recognized that being adversaries of the government has not worked well for us.  Unions will normally have adversarial relationships with their employers.  A teachers association without an arsenal that includes job action will have opportunities to accomplish many things that presently seem to be beyond our reach.

If the UCP government and the ATA were not so intent upon perpetual acrimony with respect to each other, perhaps they could find common ground.  One example might be the United Conservative desire for small government and small bureaucracies.  Is this not something the two parties have in common?  Don’t both the UCP and the ATA want more money to get to the front lines so that the only people in the system who are truly essential are the principals, teachers, educational assistants, librarians, and secretaries who work in the same building where the students gather every day?  Don’t teachers and MLAs agree that it is problematic when the people with all the power in school jurisdiction offices protect their own jobs while at the same time cutting front-line positions.  Can teachers and government officials stop sniping at each other long enough to recognize that we mostly agree there is overspending somewhere in the system and that this overspending does not (generally) occur in the building with all the kids in it.

Both the United Conservative Party and Alberta teachers have an opportunity in the coming months.  The current leadership race will be a time of rebranding and reprioritizing for the party.  It must be a time for the party to call into question its relationship with teachers.  It can also be a time for the ATA to rethink its relationship with the government and open itself to a new way of doing business; one which will allow it to accomplish some of its professional goals.  If both parties will listen to the other and consider how an idea which immediately seems distasteful can be turned into an opportunity for a conversation and potentially collaboration.  Whatever polarization we may have embraced which makes this conversation impossible, let us all agree to discard that.   

To those who aspire to become the new leader of the United Conservative Party I offer this challenge; reinvent the relationship that this government has with the educators and health care workers in this province.  At least reach out.  Apologize if you are complicit in the current state of the relationships.  Return to the UCP policy declaration and the principles therein for guidance and discard whatever axes your predecessors had to grind.

To teachers and UCP members, it can be a new day if only we choose to seize it.


Rob Duiker

Rocky Mountain House

Saturday, 30 September 2017

I Like Them All, But I’m Voting For Kenney

The United Conservative Leadership race has been a challenge for me.  The fact is that I would be quite happy with any of the three candidates.  Of course there are four registered candidates, but it appears to me that Jeff Callaway is only in the race to make Brian Jean look bad.  He has no intention of winning.  Callaway should drop out now.  He’s made his point.  His name will not be mentioned again in this post.  The three candidates who are in it to win it are all people I would be happy to vote for in a general election.

So how do I choose from among the three?  My early favourite after the vote to unite the two parties was Brian Jean.  I felt particularly indebted to Jean and to Jason Kenney for getting us to the point of unity, but Jean seemed to me to be the most likeable.  Likeability translates into votes nowadays like never before.  Consider Justin Trudeau.  I don’t believe anyone considered him to be smarter or harder working than Stephen Harper.  He won the election on the likeability factor.  However, even though Jean is still the likeable one, my vote has moved away from him. There is another candidate who I now believe is more electable than Jean.

I considered supporting Doug Schweitzer.  I like him too.  He has performed well in both of the debates so far.  His youth will be appealing to many.  He represents a flank of our party which feels estranged and needs to be assured that it is still whole-heartedly included in this broad tent.  He has great ideas about how to put our financial house in order.  While he calls himself a centrist, he is not part of what I call “The Far Centre;” those who believe nothing other than public opinion.  He is a committed and valued member of this party.  In spite of all of this I have determined that I will support Jason Kenney in his bid to be the first leader of the United Conservative Party and the next premier of Alberta.

While I bristled at Kenney’s pragmatic approach to winning the Progressive Conservative Leadership, eventually I did support his campaign as I came to the conclusion that  hostile takeover was necessary. (see:  I have predicted previously that Kenney had burned too much political capital in that first leadership race to be a serious contender to lead the united party.  I went on to assert that his real purpose was to pave the way for his friend Rona Ambrose to take the helm of the United Conservative Party.  (see:  I was very wrong!  Support for Kenney is strong and getting stronger every day.  As the campaign moves forward he is increasingly articulating a vision with cohesiveness and common sense that confounds his critics.  He has not only endured a campaign of demonization, but has used this unfair depiction of him as an opportunity to clarify and fortify his positions.

Parental Right as the Defining Issue

As I see it, the distinction between Kenney and Schweitzer (beyond the relative ease of spelling Kenney’s name correctly) is one of philosophical consistency.  Let me try to explain.  The clearest area of contrast between the two candidates is on parental rights.  Both candidates assert parental rights as it comes to expression in school choice.  They both believe in the right of parents to choose a school which is a fit with their culture and educational priorities.  However, they differ dramatically in terms of the rights of parents to be informed when one of their children is struggling with matters of sexuality.  

The preamble of the School Act asserts that, “parents have a right and a responsibility to make decisions respecting the education of their children.”  Elsewhere the Act indicates that parents are entitled to be informed when programs,  materials, or exercises, “Include subject-matter that deals primarily and explicitly with religion or human sexuality.”  Kenney correctly contends that parental rights are clearly established in Alberta law and Alberta culture.  He has been made to pay a high price for this contention.

He has been labelled a homophobe and a dangerous man by his adversaries.  The slanderers on twitter allege that he is a hateful man who is on a mission to ‘out’ LGBTQ youths before they are ready.  Of course this is simply unfair.  In the vast majority of cases,  nobody loves a child more than his or her parents.  Kenney asserts the rights of parents to come alongside the child facing the biggest struggle of his or her young life, and he demonstrates trust in the members of the teaching profession to make sound judgements to protect these young people in that small number of cases where parents do present a danger to a child.  

The key question in this philosophical dilemma is, “What is the ultimate source of the authority that a teacher exercises in his or her role as an educator?”  The School Act appears to be rightfully founded on the notion that it is parental authority which is delegated and entrusted to teachers.  The primary responsibility for educating children belongs to the the parents.  Teachers are to work in concert with parents for the wellbeing of students.  When government asserts its authority over education, all Albertans need to be wary of the implications.  If parents are to be routinely feared, we lose an essential component of the foundation of our education system.  If educators are bound by legislation and their ability to judge a situation is no longer trusted, respect for their professionalism has been violated.  The essence of professionalism in any profession is freedom of practice; freedom to make professional judgements.  Teachers have a long and respected history of discerning when the affirmation of parental rights is unsafe for children.  Kenney simply says there is no need for the government to flex its muscle here.

Herein lies the inconsistency in Schweitzer’s reasoning.  Parents must be trusted to choose the best school for their children, but not trusted to act in the best interests of the child when sexuality, sexual expression, or even membership in a GSA is an issue.  Kenney’s position, on the other hand holds together, and if the indoctrinated masses will listen to him before shouting him down, they may find that this is the case.  It is this thoughtful reasoning and the courage to side with reason and common sense in the face of adversity that prompts me to support Jason Kenney to be the first leader of the United Conservative Party of Alberta.

Jean supporters will argue correctly that his position on this point is no different than that of Kenney.  Where Kenney shines is in the communication of challenging concepts like this in language that can be understood by the general public.  His experience and raw intelligence becomes evident when he is called upon to make common sense prevail over political correctness.

Disagreement is a Good Thing!

As voters approach this leadership vote and the next general election, it is worth noting and honouring the fact that Jean, Schweitzer, and Kenney do not only coexist in this party, but demonstrate mutual respect for one another’s positions in spite of considerable disagreement.  That is the sort of party the United Conservative Party is intended to be.  There is no need to fear being demonized because of your ‘crazy’ views.  Ideas are listened to and debated.  Sometimes people will be persuaded.  Disagreement is considered to be fruitful and productive.  This does not appear to be true of any other provincial party in Alberta.  Should we not prefer that over the blackening of reputations we have seen too much of lately?  

This leadership race includes three legitimate candidates to be our next premier.  I like them all, but I’m voting for Kenney.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Unite The Righteous

As we enter the final day of the race for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party, I want to take one final kick at the can to clarify what we are actually voting for.  Jason Kenney has turned this race into a referendum on the question, “Should the Progressive Conservative Party unite with the Wildrose Party to create one free enterprise, conservative party?”  Many have called this a demolition of the conservative party or a deal with the devil.  Some have said this moves the party to the extreme right.  The rhetoric on all sides has escalated.  The truth of the matter as I see it is that this is a union between urban and rural conservatives.  It is not about left and right.  This merger is about healing a profound cultural gap that exists everywhere.  Only conservatives in this province  have an answer to this dilemma.  That is what we are voting on.

Today the Progressive Conservative brand in Alberta remains battered and bruised.  May 5, 2015 was the darkest of days in the life of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.  On that night I expressed that now is the time to take seriously the notion of uniting the right in Alberta.  Since then I have heard nothing to change my mind.  The party was reduced to a mere nine of the 87 seats in the legislature and less than 28% of the popular vote.  There are many perfectly good reasons for this thorough provincial pants-kicking.

From October 2011 to March 2014 our province endured the premiership of Alison Redford.  Albertans quickly tired of the premier’s use of her position for personal gain, and she fell out of favour with caucus and cabinet alike for her failure to honour them with responsibility or acknowledge their accomplishments.   Redford deliberately moved the party to the left, forsaking our conservative identity.  She moved us towards becoming a more urban party spurning all of rural Alberta, which is now predominantly represented by the Wildrose Party.   She was followed by Jim Prentice, the man who was supposed to be the next Peter Lougheed.  He was correctly called a political opportunist.  Rural Albertans and urban Albertans alike punished the party by voting NDP and Wildrose.  

It is time for the PCs and the Wildrose Party to realize that neither is assured of a majority on its own.  In 2004, under the leadership of Ralph Klein, the PC party garnered just under 48% of the popular vote and won a whopping 74 of the 83 seats.  When combined with the 8.7% for the Alberta Alliance Party, the vote on the right of the political spectrum totalled 55.5% of the popular vote.  In the 2012 election under Alison Redford, the total popular vote on the right was just a little less at 52%, but it was divided almost equally between two fiscally conservative parties.  Nevertheless, we came away with 63 of 87 seats.  That was our lucky day!  But we did lose something;  we lost the confidence of rural Alberta in 17 ridings where Wildrose candidates were elected.

A look at the political map today will tell you that it is more accurate to describe our two favourite parties, not as progressive and traditional, but rather as urban and rural.  Wildrose is a rural party.  The Progressive Conservatives have become an urban party.  If the votes for the Progressive Conservatives and the Wildrose Party are combined, the 2015 Election would have resulted in 60 of 87 seats for the combined party.  NDP would have won 25 seats; almost all of them in Edmonton.  Prior to the election we tried to make the Wildrose Party go away with some clever machinations.  That didn’t work.  They are not going away.   

We must unite if we have any desire at all to gain the rural vote in Alberta.  Make no mistake;  if our party seeks to retain its present urban identity and fails to work to unite the right, it will be a strong signal that the party has thrown the rural vote under the bus.  That bus will have Brian Jean’s picture on it (but preferably not directly over the rear wheels).  The first question we must ask ourselves is, “Will we continue to be an city-dominated party?”  

The second question is, “What sort of leader do we need to unite these two parties who have not always been very polite to one another?” Our strategy in 2014 was to seek the next Peter Lougheed.  The messy results speak for themselves.  The clean-cut sophistication, designed to appeal to the urban voter was intended to distinguish us from the farmers and cowboys who gave the Wildrose its wildness. Perhaps it should be clear to us by now that the leader we can agree on will more likely be a Ralph-like straight-shooting guy or girl in a cowboy hat that the country folk and city folk both will like.  We need to present an “Alberta First” strategy which includes all of Alberta.  All of Alberta includes citizens of the big cities and the residents of our rural communities together with  surrounding countryside.  We need to present an ‘Alberta First’ strategy in which Alberta is defined by Albertans, rather than by all of the politically correct NDP, predominantly urban forces, devoid of common sense, that would impose themselves upon rural Albertans.

Conventional wisdom might tell you that governing all of Alberta will require a party which spans a wide band on the right and centre of the political spectrum.  My contention is that more correctly, it will require a party which defies the political spectrum altogether.  Under Ralph Klein, the party was home to people who might have belonged to a variety of right and left leaning parties in other provinces.  Meaningful and fierce discussions occurred within caucus and cabinet meetings.  Members were expected to represent constituents with passion.  The caucus must again become a team with many diverse parts.  It must be a place where iron sharpens iron.  It must be a place where all are respected and where the leader is someone who can handle being disagreed with.  Disagreement should never again be considered to be a bad thing.  The cabinet must be a place where ministers are not scripted by the premier, but rather ministers have real responsibility, make real decisions, and are publicly acknowledged for the accomplishments of their ministries.  Voters expect elected representatives to have a voice.  Our two parties will only be united by a leader who sincerely desires for all members of his or her party to have an authentic voice.  

The first thing we must do is get the membership of the Progressive Conservative Party solidly behind the merger.  We must convince our membership that we have little access to the rural vote and are unlikely to win on urban votes alone.  We must want to be a party where rural and urban people recognize the necessity of being mutually supportive; we must be the party that rekindles the friendship between urban and rural Alberta!

Then we must meet with Wildrose officials.  They need to hear that we believe  that our strengths are complementary and that a united party will be more attractive to urban voters than the Wildrose brand.  They need to know that we aspire to be populist, that we do not aspire to confine ourselves to a defined narrow range on the political spectrum, that we do desire to once again become a team that is both urban and rural, and that we do plan to return to a program where local representation is preeminent over the party line.   They should know that we support the idea of disagreement and active discussion within the caucus and that sharing a government caucus is to be preferred over sharing the opposition side of the legislature.

We must not be too proud to own our failures and our weaknesses.  We should confidently own our strengths.  We should let Wildrose know that we agree with the priorities that they promote.  
  • Standing Up For Low Taxes, Balanced Budgets, and a Savings Plan
  • Standing Up For Patient-Centred Health Care and Seniors Care
  • Standing Up For World-Class Education
  • Standing Up For Democracy and Accountability in Alberta
  • Standing Up For Rural Alberta

We must not be too proud to declare, publicly if necessary, that we have a mutual need.  We need to prevent the election of another NDP government.  And we also must not be too proud to assert that have a mutual weakness.  Neither of us on our own has a brand which is well positioned to guarantee a win in the next provincial general election.  Our needs are best served if together we own a new brand.

We must ask the Wildrose to agree with us to shape a new brand that is less interested in left and right than in wrong and right; that cares less about the name of the party than about good government for our great province.  We need a party right now, that agrees that it is right to work hard, pay our debts, take care of our people, and put Alberta first.  If we desire to prevent this New Democratic Party from becoming a political dynasty we must act quickly, and and we are best off acting together.

My friends, the name of the party, and the name of the leader of the party, are not as important as names of the members.  We all forgot that for a few years.  Let us not waste a perfectly good mistake by making it again.  Let us be one party, united for the purpose of restoring Alberta to the prominence to which it is entitled!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Looking Forward to Leadership Race #2

A Heavy News Day

January 26 was a busy day at political news desks in Alberta.  Three separate events all point to acceptance that on March 18 the most likely conclusion to the Progressive Conservative Leadership Conference is that delegates will vote for Jason Kenney and his Unite Alberta initiative.  These three stories taken together, kick off the next stage in the life of the Alberta family of conservatives. 

The most predictable of the three news events was the departure of Stephen Khan from the race. It was less than two weeks ago, while at the leadership forum in Edmonton, that I whispered to my friend sitting next to me, "Khan is planning on dropping out of the race." He looked to be the hired gun, tasked with the job of going after Kenney hard and mean, allowing Richard Starke and Byron Nelson to look distinguished and "Premier-like." Khan self-righteously cited "vitriol, anger, and division" as elements of the race he could no longer tolerate. Most observers would agree that Khan had virtually no chance of winning. If Khan is a candidate in the 2019 election, it appears he will likely not be be carrying the banner of a new conservative party.

Perhaps under-reported was the story of Richard Starke's adjusted position regarding the Wildrose Party. He now proposes that the two parties work together to form a government which will defeat the NDP in 2019. This signals a move from Starke's centrist campaign to one which addresses the traditional grassroots conservative voter. Finally,a candidate other than Jason Kenney acknowledges that voters who have supported the Wildrose Party for last 15 years are in fact part of the conservative family that our party seeks to represent. (for more on this read This move is likely too late to impact the results at the leadership convention in March, but it does position Dr. Starke better to be a candidate in the next leadership race.

The most publicized of the three events is the announcement by Brian Jean, that he will willingly step down as the leader of the Wildrose Party if the party membership chooses to unite with the Progressive Conservatives. Jean stressed that he wants the process to go very quickly. He wants the merger approved in June and a leadership race to commence in July. By Fall the new leader and new party will be sitting together in the legislature. So, why the big rush? Jean indicates that he is concerned about the NDP calling a snap election. It is doubtful that is the real reason. After the way Jim Prentice was punished for an early election call it is extremely unlikely the NDP would attempt anything so foolish. I contend that the real reason for the rush is Rona Ambrose.

On this same busy news day the National Post touted Rona Ambrose as the "Best Female Prime Minister We Will Never Have." As interim leader of the federal Conservative Party she is daily building up her resume. I have said to anyone who will listen that Rona Ambrose will be the next premier of Alberta. (see Maybe Brian Jean is worried about this too. The Conservative Party of Canada will not pick a new leader until May 27. Ms. Ambrose will not be in a position to enter a provincial race until June at the earliest. The best way to beat Rona Ambrose is to beat the clock. Brian Jean is currently the favourite to win the Alberta united party leadership. His chief competition is not Jason Kenney. The race against the clock tells me that Brian Jean has already begun his race to defeat the mighty Ms. Ambrose.

January 26 was a busy news day for journalists watching the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership race. Three separate events, all of which point to the likelihood of a Jason Kenney victory, occurred within the space of a few hours. These events demonstrate that conservatives in Alberta are looking past the Progressive Conservative Leadership Convention on March 17 and 18 to another leadership race; the race to be the first leader of a united Alberta conservative party.

The Conversation Will Now Change

With the results of Leadership Race #1, or more correctly the referendum on the merger as a foregone conclusion the topic of discussion will now turn to the nature of the Agreement with the Wildrose Party. How will we ensure one party does not dominate the merger? Will we have a new constitution based on a fresh set of principles? How fast will it go? Will there be time for Rona Ambrose to enter the race? Will anyone be excluded? (O'Neill? Nelson? Khan?) Look for this discussion to move along very quickly. Jean will want to put Wildrose's best deal on the table immediately in order to meet his timelines.

There will be a lot of talk about money? It is generally concede that the Wildrose Party is in better financial shape than the PC party. That is the primary reason why it makes sense to use their legal framework as the structure of the new party. So what happens to monies currently in PC accounts? There are many pockets with money in them including campaign accounts, constituency association accounts and accounts controlled by the board. Do we keep the party alive until after the money is spent? What if that means running some candidates as Progressive Conservatives in selected ridings? What happens to monies in candidate accounts in situations where previous candidates do not support the merger? Will there be a prenuptial agreement? There are so many questions.

The true measure of whether or not this is in fact a new party is not found in the legal framework. Rather it is in the principles, policies, and people. Will the new party start with a board that is dominated by one party or the other? Will the party be based on the principles and policies of one of the parties or will it start with a blank slate? Will its new name be one that unifies or indicates the preeminence of one of the founding parties?

There will be many interesting days ahead. Right now, in the wake of a sometimes stormy season in the life of our party during the leadership race, perhaps the most pressing question is, "Who will be the peacemakers?" "Which leader can demonstrate an authentic desire to unite Alberta?"  Stay tuned for more Progressive Conservative fun!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Be Afraid ... Of Fear Itself: Fear and Exclusion in the Alberta PC Party.

"Who do I NOT vote for?"   This question, or some version of it, has become the primary question that we ask ourselves as political decision makers.  The key question in the recent US Presidential election was, "Which candidate do I distrust more?" or even,  "Which candidate do I hate more?"  This week as the federal Conservative Party leadership race heats up a "Stop Kevin O'Leary" campaign has begun. At the same time Kellie Leitch is accused of taking a page from the playbook of US President Elect Donald Trump.  We are told to be afraid of Leitch, and be afraid of O'Leary.  The way to get elected is to create fear about the opposing candidate.  On March 18 the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party will choose a new leader.  Sadly, some of the same fear tactics are being employed in this race.  

Many of us have heard the line from Franklin D. Roosevelt that "The only thing we have to fear is...fear itself."  In this leadership race I fear the possible outcomes of the fear that is being mongered.  If fear is created about the NDP, the Wildrose, progressives, conservatives, party unifiers, party rebuilders, and party poopers within the PC Party, we have a recipe for a comeback and possible majority for the Liberal and/or Alberta Party.  That is what fear itself can cause!  That's what I am afraid of.

The Scary People

It's a political fact of life!  Every party has it’s 'Scary People'. Every candidate has his or her supporters who are an embarrassment to his or her campaign. Every campaign features some degree of outrageous ‘support' for a candidate comprised of a preposterous characterization of a political opponent. People we ought to be afraid of are everywhere!  This is not obviously more true or less true of people on the right than of people on the left. So, it should come as no surprise that candidates for the Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership have had to endure some very unfair and inaccurate personal attacks. It is disappointing that these abuses happen, and it is disappointing that these abuses receive any public attention at all. But the disappointment doesn’t stop there. It is disheartening when candidates will use these shameful 
acts and comments of small scary minorities to score political points. It is discouraging when the entirety of a group of supporters of an opposing party or of a candidate can be characterized as something like a group of 'deplorables'.

We have seen this recently in the United States where the nation was divided into two groups of scary people led by two allegedly scary leaders. But Canada is not immune to this demonization of its leaders or sweeping generalizations about their supporters. Stephen Harper came to be hated by armies of people who characterized him as heartless and controlling. Justin Trudeau is dismissed as Pierre Trudeau’s dumb son who couldn’t get a good teaching job or earn an advanced degree. Rachel Notley is routinely blamed for everything that goes wrong in Alberta. The character of these people has been so maligned that it requires courage to speak up in support of any of them. So it is not surprising that both the Jason Kenneys and Sandra Jansens of this world are painted as extreme in some way by some scary people. It is a sad reality that scary people of various political persuasions will destroy reputations of good people with a leisurely laugh.

‘GOOD’clusion and ‘BAD’clusion

Among the consequences of this almost routine character assassination of politicians is the legitimizing of their exclusion from any place within our political party of choice. In the world of Alberta Progressive Conservatives of 2017 this means that some of us can assert that Sandra Jansen does not belong and some of us can assert that Jason Kenney does not belong. It seems odd to me that while this exclusion is so commonplace in the world of politics, we teach our children something very different.

Inclusion has been a powerful theme in Alberta’s schools for the past several years. Every student is entitled to a place to belong.  Colour, ethnicity, disability, inability, sexuality, sexual identity, gender, learning style, intelligence type, poverty, wealth, family circumstances, language, and religion have all been the basis for people to be wrongly excluded from learning and excluded from relationships. In my life as a teacher I tell my students that these types of exclusion can be called BADclusion. Furthermore it is badclusion to isolate or write off people who disagree with you on any issue. I encourage GOODclusion. Isn’t it interesting that there is so much badclusion on our political scene and in our own political party?

Consider our use of language when we characterize people as being far left or far right. Our intention is to marginalize and exclude these political radicals. In truth, the far left is communist and the far right is fascist. It is offensive to use these terms to describe any members of our mainstream parties, including the NDP, Wildrose, and all parties in between. And yet we freely throw terms like this around with apparent ease, and in doing so are guilty of exclusion.

We easily declare people to be extremists. A substantial number of people in Alberta could be described as ‘pro-life’ or ‘anti-abortion.’ Many others of us consider ourselves to be ‘pro-choice.’ This is a complex issue not always characterized as such. It is an issue that involves a confluence of individual rights, religious rights, science, reason, and popular opinion. It is an issue about which people on both sides consider those who disagree this them to be adversaries. The federal Liberal Party excludes pro-life people as potential candidates for their party. There are some within our party who would like to do something similar. We, the Progressive Conservatives of Alberta need to examine our hearts for such exclusion. We need to stop the name-calling and figure out how to get along with people we disagree with. We need to stop the negative characterizations of people we disagree with and figure out how to include each other in productive political discourse.

The Ralph Klein Example

I often hear a longing for the next coming of Peter Lougheed or of Ralph Klein. In conversations with a friend of mine who served as part of Klein’s caucus and cabinet I think I gained some insights into the ‘secret sauce’ in his recipe for political success. He respected the voice of every caucus member as the legitimate representative of a constituency, he allowed members to receive the accolades rightfully earned for work in various ministries, he convened hard, and sometimes loud conversations behind closed doors, and he led a government where an almost inconceivably wide range of voices from within the party had meaningful input into decisions and legislation. He specialized in inclusion.  I suspect that Lougheed employed similar strategies.

Conventional wisdom might tell you that governing all of Alberta will require a party which spans a wide band on the right and centre of the political spectrum. My contention is that more correctly, it will require a party which defies the political spectrum altogether. Under Ralph Klein, the party was home to people who might have belonged to a variety of right and left leaning parties in other provinces. Meaningful and fierce discussions occurred within caucus and cabinet meetings. Members were expected to represent constituents with passion. The caucus in 2019 must again become a team with many diverse parts. It must be a place where iron sharpens iron. It must be a place where all are respected, and where the leader is someone who can handle being disagreed with. Disagreement should never again be considered to be a bad thing. The cabinet must be a place where ministers are not scripted by the premier, but rather where ministers have real responsibility, make real decisions, and are publicly acknowledged for the accomplishments of their ministries. We must become the party once again which is big enough to include all of the Sandra Jansens, Donna Kennedy-Glanses, Stephen Khans, Richard Starkes, Byron Nelsons, Jason Kenneys, and Brian Jeans of this world into one functional collaborative whole.

What Now?

Over the course of the current leadership campaign we have heard a lot of talk about being centrist (see also Others talk about uniting the right. It should be apparent to all that laying claim any part of the political spectrum is an act of including some and excluding others. We have witnessed early on in this campaign the willingness to write off some who are identified as the scary people. “Socialists are scary people!” “The Wildrose Party is loaded with scary people!” “Pro-lifers are scary!” I’m afraid of Pro-choicers!” “Climate change deniers are crazy radicals!” “Radical environmentalists are a real threat!” The list of people to exclude can go on.

In the aftermath of this leadership election, it appears a foregone conclusion that some people will exclude themselves. Indeed, Ms. Jansen has excluded herself already. It is probably true that she did not hear clearly enough the invitation to (continue to) be an important part of something big; an important resident of a big tent. Somewhere in that episode is a mistake that we can learn from. If on March 18 the leadership is won by a centrist, it is likely that supporters of the Wildrose Party will continue to be excluded, and some from our party will migrate to them. If the leadership is won by Jason Kenney, it is likely that some of us will migrate to the Liberals, the NDP, and the Alberta Party. That may be inevitable. But this likelihood should sadden us. I am dismayed at the prospect of more people feeling excluded.

Perhaps the opposite of BADclusion or exclusion is invitation. Real inclusion requires invitation. I lament when the only invitation being heard by party members and others who consider themselves to be Progressive Conservatives is contingent on being like-minded. That is not a recipe for a big tent. This is not inclusion.  Whoever wins the leadership on March 18 must extend an invitation to all who disagree with him. As a matter of fact, prospective leaders should begin to extend invitations now lest they appear disingenuous by virtue of their strategic (late) timing. Disagreement makes us better. We should seek it. The best marriages are not those between people who agree on everything. We need to be a party where people know they are included because no matter how forcefully we disagree with each other, we do so with courtesy and civility. Inclusion makes us better. Take a lesson from your kids! GOODclusion is the secret sauce to the recipe for the return of a strong conservative and progressive government in Alberta.

For more posts in this series please check out  

Monday, 26 December 2016

Prediction: Rona Ambrose Will Be The Alberta Premier in 2019

The Kenney Plan

If elected as the leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party on March 18, Jason Kenney plans to do the following:
  1. Negotiate a framework agreement with the Wildrose Party to create a new united party
  2. Hold a referendum on a unity agreement.
  3. Create a united party at a founding convention
  4. Hold a leadership election for the new party.


I predict that Kenney will win the leadership. Before September 2017 a framework agreement with Wildrose will be negotiated. Before 2017 is over a united party will be created.  Sometime in 2018 a leadership election will be held. The name of the new leader of that new party will be Rona Ambrose.

Don't get me wrong.  I think Jason Kenney would make a fine premier for our province, but as far as I can tell that is not the plan. The Kenney plan appears to be a plan to pave the way for Ambrose to become the Premier of Alberta in 2019. That’s right; the evidence suggests that Jason Kenney does not intend to become the premier of Alberta. His job is to do the heavy lifting, and to endure the damage to his reputation required by the effort to unite Alberta’s free enterprise parties. But at the end of the day it will be Rona Ambrose who leads her people back to the promised land.

All-Star Strategy Team

Kenny has assembled a high powered team of strategists to make the plan work. A look at his team will give clues with regard to the plan.
  • Jeff Henwood: former executive assistant to Alison Redford
  • Ian Todd: Partner, Maple Leaf Strategies, Government and Media Relations
  • Blaise Boehmer: Principal, Revolver Strategic, Public Affairs Expert
  • Alan Hallman: Government/Community Relations Specialist
  • John Weissenberger: Petroleum Industry Executive
Kenney has loaded up on strategic smarts. If his goal was simply to be elected as leader of the party he would not need nearly that much help. And he would seek a different kind of help. This all-star team is not too worried about who they annoy. They are all more focused on getting the job done than collaborating with anyone or even maintaining a conciliatory tone. The team is heavy on offence and light on defense. This is a campaign team that doesn't appear to give a rat's ass about what anybody thinks.  They don't have to. This is not about selecting a premier or even a party leader. This is about creating a new party that imposes itself on two reluctant existing parties. It needs to be done, but when it is done Jason Kenney and his reputation will be spent. Once the parties are united, in the best interests of Alberta he will have to step back, open the door for Rona Ambrose, and let her finish the job. 

The team has devised an effective strategy to unite free enterprise parties in Alberta. But this is a very poor strategy to get their candidate elected as premier, unless the name of that candidate is Rona Ambrose. This team is too good to make such obvious blunders.

The campaign they have devised is one where Kenney is a willing sacrifice for the greater good. Kenney will successfully become the final leader of the Progressive Conservative Party with support predominantly from people who voted Wildrose in the last election. But he will need someone else to come in who can unite enthusiastic members of the new party with the other half of the party which will by that time be on the verge of leaving. His team has been going out of its way to tick people off. I can tell you this from experience because I am a declared Kenney supporter and they are ticking me off. They have annoyed many many people who have been devoted to rebuilding the party with their plan to dismantle it. They have ticked off people who remain devoted to the Progressive Conservative and Wildrose brands with their promise to get rid of both. They have ticked off other leadership hopefuls by turning the leadership race into a referendum on uniting with Wildrose.  And Kenney’s high-powered team of strategic experts is doing nothing to stop it. They don’t want to. These guys are too smart to think this strategy will work to get Kenney to the Premier’s office. Kenney is freely and intentionally spending all of his political capital on round one. He will not have enough available for another successful leadership race in 2018.  It appears obvious that he has no plans to run.

Kenney Team Strategy is Good for Jean and Ambrose

Rona Ambrose is not the only candidate with a shot to win the new party's leadership. Many of the supporters of the Unite Alberta initiative are also Brian Jean supporters. If the Wildrose and the Alberta PC party unite in 2017, Jean, not Kenney, becomes the instant favourite to win the leadership. The very people who Kenney is recruiting to become members of the Progressive Conservative Party are Brian Jean supporters. The end goal of the Kenney team may well be to get Jean elected as our next premier.  But he does not have as much broad appeal and widespread support as Ms. Ambrose.

If the plan of the Kenney’s team is not to get Jean elected, Ambrose is the most likely beneficiary of the plan. It all makes such perfect sense. Why would Ambrose not run for the federal leadership? Perhaps because she has a different plan in mind. Her commitment to the federal leadership party ends in May. Her stint as the interim federal party leader is the best possible audition for the Alberta premiership. People everywhere are raving about what an outstanding job she is doing.  No one will doubt she can do the job. She will be untainted by the brazenness of the present leadership campaign. All anti-woman talk resulting from the treatment of Sandra Jansen and Donna Kennedy Glans will be silenced. She may well be positioned to win one of the biggest majorities in Alberta history in 2019.  This appears to be the real plan of the the Kenney super-team.  It is a very good plan indeed!

See Also: