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UCP policy list controversies will disappear as Jason Kenney performs his best-known magic trick

Jason Kenney. Photo: michael_swan/flickr

Alberta's Opposition United Conservative Party has distributed to its members a list of 782 policy proposals to be considered at its founding convention in Red Deer this weekend. Inevitably, the list was immediately handed over to media and the blogosphere by Conservatives unknown.

Much was immediately made by the UCP's enemies, and a few of its friends, of the list's many potentially controversial and embarrassing entries. These include encouragement for privatized medicine, lax gun laws, cutting public employees' pay and ripping up their pension plans, brutal budget austerity, 19th-century definitions of marriage and family, permission for health-care professionals not to offer medical services they disapprove of, and pots of public money for private schools.

In addition, there were a few of the dog whistles you'd expect -- voter ID, anyone? Plus a few proposals that indicate the originators don't really get how our system of government works. The ever-popular referendum on Canada's equalization program, for example. There were also a surprising number of suggestions that while leaning to the conservative side of the political spectrum were reasonably sensible.

The task now for UCP Leader Jason Kenney will be not to get too much of the stuff that's bound to be unpopular with middle-of-the-road voters into the party's policy books, but hang onto enough to keep the party's social conservative base sweet. After all, they contribute a lot of the money, time and enthusiasm without which no political party can succeed at election time.

If anyone understands how the policy planks that become a political party's platform can be dangerous, it is Kenney, a former federal Conservative cabinet minister and a lifelong professional politician who has managed to have a highly successful political career while holding social conservative views that are well outside the Canadian mainstream.

This is no insignificant trick. It relies, to a considerable degree, on simply refusing to acknowledge what is in plain sight -- as in the recent case of the NDP government's abortion clinic "bubble zone" legislation, which caused the entire UCP caucus to disappear from the legislature in a flash. If the government benches were more appreciative of the art of illusion, they would have applauded!

This, by the way, is how American evangelical leaders can demand the restoration of Christian values at the same time as supporting Donald Trump, who by the sound of it is a man who thinks two or three ain't bad when it comes to the Ten Commandments. Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

UCP apparatchiks are toiling as this is written to winnow the long list down to about 250 resolutions that will be presented to party delegates on Friday to vote on over the weekend. Successful resolutions will become the party's official policies.

And no matter what the UCP's opponents say now, I doubt there will be too much left for them to take potshots at once the process has been completed on the Christian Sabbath, which out of political necessity this weekend UCPers will not honour.

After a carefully choreographed convention -- at which the party's social conservatives will have enough time in the spotlight to reassure them their enthusiasms are taken seriously -- a carefully parsed and anodyne policy package will be ready for public consumption in time for the 2019 election campaign. Understandings are certain to be reached behind closed doors, plausibly deniable.

That, at least, is what I imagine the UCP plan will be. You just never know when members are involved, of course, when someone might wander outside the lines. This is a problem faced not only by parties on the right-hand side of the political spectrum. Count on it that Kenney's stage managers will be watching closely.

After the weekend, the UCP will quietly get to work on its real priorities: tax cuts for the rich, benefit cuts for the poor, and carte blanche for the fossil fuel industry.

Irony alert: Brad Wall takes a job in Alberta

Former Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall is so infuriated at what Rachel Notley and her NDP government have done to Alberta that he's going to come to work for a Calgary law firm.

The ironic snickering you hear is that of the many non-fans of the cranky former Congeniality of Confederation, not all of whom are New Democrats and not all of whom are in Alberta.

One theory is that Wall hates what the NDP has done so much he took the first job he could get in Alberta once he'd retired from politics. Another is that Saskatchewan's economy is such a mess, not to mention the soaring sales tax, that the only post-premier employment the man could get was in rebounding Alberta.

Wall -- who is not a lawyer, but has a university degree in public administration and a certificate from the Investment Funds Institute of Canada -- will go to work as a "special advisor" in the Calgary office of the venerable firm of Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt LLP, which was founded in Dundas, Ont., in 1862.

He has assured his former supporters via tweet that he will continue to reside in Swift Current, which he represented as MLA in the Legislature in Regina for 19 years. As time goes by, though, one imagines he will be drawn more and more to the bright lights of Calgary, the Paris of the Western Plains.

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

Photo: michael_swan/flickr

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