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Is the UCP going to run against itself?

Image: michael_swan/Flickr

I think I've figured out the United Conservative Party (UCP) election strategy for 2019.

In light of the embarrassingly revealing policy resolutions passed at the UCP's founding convention in Red Deer over the weekend and the party leadership's subsequent effort at damage control, not to mention the emerging behaviour of candidates seeking UCP nominations, the strategy is becoming clear.

They're going to run against themselves!

I can see their grainy, scary, fright-TV ads, sinister music buzzing in the background: "The UCP wants to persecute gay kids, ban abortions and privatize health care. The only way you can stop them is by voting for us… in 2019, vote for Jason's Team!"

As all Albertans by now must know, UCP Leader Jason Kenney started his campaign for the Progressive Conservative Party leadership by calling for kids who join gay-straight alliances in schools to be outed to their parents. (Or was that the campaign to lead the UCP? Whatever, it also seems to have been part of a concerted effort, apparently largely successful, to drive moderate Tories out of the new party.)

But now that the UCP has endorsed the policy he campaigned on, Kenney says he is against it.

According to news reports, he also said he interprets the resolution differently. Regardless, though, as far at the party platform goes, he's The Decider. "I will take the resolutions adopted today as important input, but I hold the pen on the platform." Understood?

The Leader stated: "A United Conservative government will not be changing law or policy to require notification of parents when kids join GSAs. We will not do that. You can take that to the bank."

Just like you could take The Grassroots Guarantee™ to the bank. Remember that?

The Grassroots Guarantee was a feature of Kenney's fill-in-the-blanks-to-suit-yourself leadership campaign(s) that, as readers will recall, declared "the policies of the United Conservative Party must be developed democratically by its grassroots members, not imposed by its leaders."

"We've had enough top-down leadership," Kenney Tweeted in March 2017. "The Grassroots Policy Guarantee trusts members to set our policy direction."

Well, that was then. This is now!

Tom Olsen, meanwhile, has been a leader in the field of communications for many years. A former colleague of mine at the Calgary Herald, Olsen was for a spell press secretary to premier Ed Stelmach.

Olsen is best known to the public as the man who got stuck with the difficult job of explaining how a photo of children frolicking on an English beach managed to find its way into a $25-million Alberta branding campaign launched by Stelmach's government in 2009.

The beach at Bamburgh, Northumberland, was featured in online advertising and a video about Alberta. Needless to say, Northumberland Tourism was delighted.

"There's no attempt to make people think that this is Alberta," Olsen told The Globe and Mail's reporter, who nowadays also runs in Alberta conservative circles. "That picture just fit the mood and tone of what we were trying to do," he rambled on to general hilarity.

So Olsen, who also plays guitar for a rock and roll band named, appropriately enough, Tom Olsen and the Wreckage, is probably as good a place as any to look for the kind of strategic communications advice the UCP is likely to take.

And, as it happens, he's a candidate for the UCP nomination in the Calgary-Buffalo riding, so he really can be our go-to guy on this file.

So what does Olsen have to say? Well, here's what he Tweeted yesterday: "Rode my bike to interview at CBC's Eye Opener this am. Great discussion on why I am running, and the excitement w the UCP AGM. If I wasn't clear enough: the safety of kids is paramount. No outing gay kids. I do NOT support Res 30." 

It was small of me, I know, but I couldn't resist responding… "So you're running for whom again, Tom? You're running against UCP policy the day after the UCP membership passed it? This is just weird. Or did I miss it when you switched to the NDP?"

Olsen responded, in the spirit of the exchange, notwithstanding that I'd just reminded him the North Sea's tidewater is nowhere near Alberta, "David! I'm surprised it took you this long! Read @jkenney statement. It's all there."

I did, and so it is, so it is… as I said, the UCP is going to run against itself, and its policies are bad enough it just might work!

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

Image: michael_swan/Flickr

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