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Jason Kenney's reconstituted PCs bid farewell to former party president Katherine O'Neill

Katherine O'Neill has departed, smiles and warm sentiments all 'round.

O'Neill was president of the Progressive Conservative Party, the one that newly elected PC Leader Jason Kenney has pledged to dismantle and merge with the Wildrose Party, the better to defeat the Alberta NDP. So you could argue there really wasn't much left to do for her anyway.

In addition to that, Kenney seems to have the Harperian quality of wanting to surround himself only with like-minded loyalists, and so there will not be much room for an old-style big-tent Alberta Conservative with progressive leanings as O'Neill appeared to be.

In that regard, O'Neill, who was in the job a little shy of a full year, will be far from alone.

As we used to say when we wrote headlines on the copy desk at the Globe and Mail, a newspaper for which O'Neill also toiled for a spell, "the future is bleak," in this case for Red Tories, moderate Tories, Tories capable of seeing two sides to an argument, Tories who don't share Kenney's nutty social conservative convictions and, I would wager, most Tories of more than one particular gender, that being the same one as the new leader.

In fairness, nothing like this was said openly in the parting remarks made by O'Neill, who pledged to remain "a proud Progressive Conservative," or in Kenney's final words of farewell to her.

She: "I have had a very good working relationship with Mr. Kenney since he won. It has been a very respectful collaborative relationship and, for me, I just felt that this was that perfect time as we are just about to really kick up the unity discussions."

He: "I have had a positive working relationship with Katherine as we have gone through the transition period. I thank her for her kindness, help and good advice."

Ms. O’Neill's remarks were made directly to reporters; Kenney's in a post on social media, the preferred venue for really serious and high-priority political messages in Conservative circles.

O'Neill also observed that since Kenney was very clear about his plan to blow up the party, and got elected leader anyway, "I honour what our members told us to do and I wish everyone luck. … You have to listen to your membership and if they're telling you that they want to do this, then you at least have to explore it." You can read what you like into that.

The fact is, as the person responsible for enforcing the PC Party's leadership contest rules, O'Neill’s relationship with the rule-breaking Kenney campaign and its imported Wildrose-oriented supporters seemed fraught from the get-go.

When Kenney supporters harassed former PC leadership candidate Sandra Jansen right out of the race for her socially progressive views, for example, O'Neill had the difficult job of warning the then-front-running candidate to make his troops behave themselves. Jansen is now an NDP MLA. Stephen Khan, another progressive leadership, candidate quit the race for much the same reason.

The Kenney campaign was also fined $5,000 on O'Neill's watch for holding a hospitality suite too close to a leadership voting area.

Such transgressions by a party president were never going to be forgotten or forgiven once the Kenney forces were in power and on their way to remaking the party in their own image.

The prevailing wisdom now is that the internal party administrative leaders formally led by O'Neill never believed that a campaign mounted by a candidate who openly wanted to destroy the party could succeed, and thus failed mount much of a defence until it was far too late.

I have no idea if this is true or if the party's key insiders were always conflicted on the idea of a Kenney victory as the most likely route to a conservative restoration in Alberta, no matter how distasteful the agent. But if they did imagine he would be easy to defeat, they were hopelessly naïve and were not paying attention to Kenney's formidable talents as an organizer and campaigner, or the ruthlessness of the big-money influencers who back his campaign.

Either way, Kenney is the leader now and the PC party -- whether this outcome was inevitable or not -- is done like dinner as an independent and moderate political entity.

O'Neill is a capable woman and will doubtless do well in some other endeavour.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Image: Flickr/governmentofalberta

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