Could Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean beat Progressive Conservative leader-presumptive Jason Kenney for the leadership of Wildrose 2.0, or whatever the new Alberta conservative political entity that emerges after Kenney's expected victory on Saturday is called?
It's an interesting, if unlikely, question.
Just to restate what has been predicted here before:
- Kenney will win the PC leadership race on the first ballot this Saturday, then proceed with his planned double-reverse hostile takeover of Alberta's two conservative parties.
- Jean will come under enormous pressure from well-heeled and influential Kenney supporters like former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper to make way for the celebrated Mr. K.
- Jean will cave.
To add one more essential point -- as explained by political commentator Dave Cournoyer in his Daveberta.ca blog yesterday -- the instant Kenney wins, the venerable Progressive Conservative Party "will become a vassal of the Wildrose Party, which Kenney also seeks to lead into a new conservative party."
Kenney’s campaign against Jean has already begun -- in the open and, quite possibly, covertly too, played out behind the scenes by groups of Kenney's supporters. Kenney backers have already shown themselves on several occasions to be prepared to ignore the PC Party's rules, not to mention the rules of common decency as illustrated by the harassment campaign against former PC leadership candidate Sandra Jansen.
Thanks to Kenney's efforts, or at least those of his supporters, Jansen is now a New Democrat MLA, a turn of events that would have been very hard to see coming even a few months ago.
But suppose, for a moment, that Jean doesn't cave! Then things will get interesting …
One effect of such a contest, I expect, would be to push the combined party much farther right, as the contestants competed for the support of the most extreme and vocal elements of the Wildrose base.
There are days -- there were a couple of them in the Legislature's Question Period last week -- when the former Harper government MP for Fort McMurray Athabasca really doesn't sound like a fellow who is about to throw in the towel and surrender to the former Harper government cabinet minister from Calgary Midnapore who is favoured by the conservative establishment’s heavyweights.
So, if Jean makes a fight of it, could he win?
There was a poll last December by Janet Brown Opinion Research that indicated conservative Albertans are more likely to vote for a united right-wing party led by Jean than one led by Kenney -- so the Wildrose leader would certainly have a legitimate argument to make.
Assuming Albertans still feel the same way, though, the problem for Jean would be that he would have to win a vote by the increasingly radicalized -- and likely by then more radical still -- Wildrose/Conservative membership. They, it is said here, are more likely to plump for Kenney, a fairly extreme social conservative, than the somewhat more moderate Jean.
Then the crucial question becomes: What happens to the moderate Tory traditionalists who are supporting leadership candidate Richard Starke, who has been from the start Kenney's only serious contender? Do they stay or do they go? If they go … where?
If the Progressive Conservative Party had been serious about conserving its existence, there was a time not so long ago it could have done something about Kenney's campaign to destroy the party and turn it into an auxiliary of the Wildrose. But it's too late now, and the veterinarian from Vermilion will go down to the former Canadian Taxpayers Federation economic snake oil salesman on Saturday despite the distinguished list of former PC MLAs who have lent their 11th hour support to Starke's campaign.
The moneyed backers of Canada's Republicanized conservatives -- especially their two Alberta chapters -- are so sure they can win the next provincial election no matter who leads, they want the more extreme candidate in the hopes Alberta can be a beachhead in the campaign against Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as well as moving Canada's political discourse back toward the far right.
Could Premier Rachel Notley's New Democrats somehow pull the fat from the fryer and get re-elected in 2019?
A new poll by Mainstreet Research, which was being heavily promoted by Postmedia newspapers yesterday, suggests not.
With the NDP's third budget set to be delivered to the Legislature tomorrow, the Mainstreet survey indicated a large majority of Albertans are highly dissatisfied with the way the government is handling the province's anemic economy and its finances.
While Mainstreet President Quito Maggi's commentary about the likely response to the budget was balanced enough, editorials and commentary by the failing Postmedia chain, which nowadays acts as an auxiliary publicity department for the conservative opposition, were positively gleeful.
As for Mainstreet's methodology, though, while I'm no professional pollster and this is just my opinion, I'm convinced that if the company had asked the question a different way, it would have gotten a different answer.
The question asks respondents: "Finance Minister Joe Ceci says the provincial budget will not be back in balance (with revenues meeting or exceeding government spending) until 2023 or 2024. In your opinion is this too fast, too slow or is it about right?"
Now, I thought I'd read somewhere recently that a cardinal rule of polling was never to ask questions in the negative because such questions tend to create confusion about double negatives. This question also seems to encourage a particular response. And what does not balancing a budget too fast mean anyway?
So I have to ask, would Mainstreet have gotten a different answer if, say, it had asked the same question this way: "Finance Minister Joe Ceci says the provincial budget will be back in balance (with revenues meeting or exceeding government spending) by 2023 or 2024. In your opinion is this too fast, too slow or is it about right?"
I say the answer is yes. That answer, however, wouldn't have reinforced Postmedia's partisan narrative.
Bonus Essay Question: Should Alberta be kept sewer-rat free?
Certain conservative politicians who seem to think it's OK for their supporters to insult a woman's appearance or to describe women politicians with what is generally considered to be the most obscene word in the English language, and who associate with groups that promote the idea "feminism is cancer," are wounded and emotional because a woman politician speaking in the provincial Legislature accused them of hanging out with "sewer rats." Discuss.
Please keep your essays to 200 words or fewer and place them in the comments section of this blog. There will be no prize for the winner beyond the approbation of this blog's proprietor.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.