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Rick Strankman out as UCP candidate, Nate Horner in, deep in Alberta's dinosaur country

Drumheller-Stettler UCP MLA Rick Strankman (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Even if you're no fan of Rick Strankman, United Conservative Party MLA for Alberta's dinosaur country, you have to feel a little sympathy for the poor guy, skidded from his nomination by a candidate more appealing to party leader Jason Kenney.

Strankman, 65, may not have been the sharpest knife in the UCP's cutlery drawer, but as a Wildrose Party candidate elected to represent the Drumheller-Stettler Riding in 2012 and re-elected under the same party's banner in 2015, he should have been able to expect the nomination again without difficulty. This would normally have been true even after the 2017 double-reverse hostile takeover of the Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties that spawned the UCP.

On top of that, Strankman is an official market-fundamentalist hero of Canada's movement conservatives for having been willing to spend time in jail to defy the Canadian Wheat Board and sell his grain illegally in the United States. He was pardoned and praised by no less a conservative avatar than former prime minister Stephen Harper. Naturally, he became the UCP's agriculture critic.

Political sins like his "bring your wife's pie" fundraiser and his comparison of the NDP's carbon levy to genocide barely raised an eyebrow inside UCP circles, and his rural southern Alberta riding is as safe as territory can be for conservative politicians.

But Kenney seems never to have warmed to his MLA's charms and Strankman could match neither the appeal nor the membership-selling skills of Nate Horner, 37, the latest scion of the Horner political clan to spring up in Alberta.

The Canadian Press once described the Horners as "one of the first families of Canadian politics." Jack Horner -- Nate's grandfather -- was a successful Conservative MP from 1958 to 1977, whereupon he crossed the floor of the House of Commons to join the Liberal Cabinet of Pierre Trudeau, where he remained until his voters kicked him out in 1979. (They don't talk much about that in rural Alberta anymore for fear of frightening the children.)

Nate Horner is also a relative for former Alberta deputy premiers Hugh Horner (appointed by Peter Lougheed) and Doug Horner (appointed by Alison Redford). Yet another Horner scion is running for the federal Conservatives in British Columbia. Readers will get the picture.

Unquestionably, Horner will present a more appealing face of "modern" Alberta conservatism than Strankman could have done.

The UCP news release announcing Horner's victory dealt summarily with Strankman in the final paragraph.

"I would also like to thank Rick Strankman for his immense contributions to the conservative movement, from going to jail to protest the unjustness of the Canadian Wheat Board to getting elected to the Alberta Legislature in 2012," Kenney was quoted as saying. "I am looking forward to working with Rick in the Legislature in the coming months and whatever else the future holds. I know I join all Albertans in thanking Rick for his service to our province." (Translation: Now get lost.)

Needless to say, this provides an interesting and ironic contrast to Kenney's views on pipeline opponents who engage in civil disobedience.

According to the incisive political analysts at the CBC, apparently still conditioned to the decades of one-party rule that preceded the election of the Alberta NDP in 2015, this means Strankman "will no longer be an MLA following next year's provincial election."

That may happen, but it actually means no such thing. Strankman still has the option of running as an independent, or he could be a natural fit for the fledgling Freedom Conservative Party led by Strathmore-Brooks MLA Derek Fildebrandt.

Fildebrandt hasn't got back to me yet about whether he'd encourage Strankman to take up the fight with the FCP. But why not? Drumheller-Stettler's not territory likely to be welcoming to the NDP.

Did Tzeporah Berman just spring a trap on Jason Kenney?

In his hasty response to environmentalist Tzeoporah Berman's broadside Saturday, Kenney seems to want us to believe he doesn't give a hang about what the people who run Alberta's powerful fossil fuel industry think.

This will sound improbable to anyone who has followed Kenney's career. Nevertheless, having gone on this long, he may be reluctant to stop treating Berman as an enemy of Alberta's oil sector just because some of the biggest big shots in the industry wanted her in the job he's been screeching about her having once occupied.

By reminding us all of this, Berman seems to have caught the Opposition leader in a bit of a rhetorical trap. Accordingly, he was soon demonstrating the characteristically clever and slippery tactics we have come to associate with him by claiming not to care what the titans of petroleum think.

Not having been involved in picking the members of the Oil Sands Advisory Group, Kenney wrote, "I can't speak to the alleged involvement of those CEOs. … At the same time, I work for the people of Alberta, not a few oil executives." (Emphasis added; chuckles permitted.)

Ergo, while Kenney backhandedly acknowledged the truth of Berman's statement, he's not about to start defending what he's spent months publicly obsessing about "regardless of whether or not some industry players thought it was a wise idea at the time." (Emphasis added again, of course.)

Other than the fact the language used sounds remarkably like that of a former Maoist -- "fellow travellers" indeed! -- there's not much else in his retort that's new. Still, it would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall when an oilpatch billionaire like N. Murray Edwards heard himself being described as just "some industry player."

Kenney is a clever old career politician. Still, to wriggle out of this well-sprung trap, he may have to chew off a limb.

How's that Brexit thing working out?

Many readers will recall the June 23, 2016, Brexit referendum night tweet by Mr. Kenney -- then still pondering a run to lead the federal Conservatives and needing to fire up his Old Stock Canadian base.

He tweeted: "Congratulations to the British people on choosing hope over fear by embracing a confident, sovereign future, open to the world!"

So, with six months left before Departure Day, how's that Brexit thing working out?

This just in from the New York Times: "It's looking very grisly."

How grisly?

  • Possible rolling blackouts and even collapse of the energy system in Northern Ireland (the British military may have to redeploy generators from Afghanistan to keep the lights on)
  • The Conservative government has appointed a minister to guarantee food supplies to manage post-Brexit shortages (food rationing?)
  • The government may have to fly planeloads of emergency medical supplies into the country (an insulin shortage is feared)
  • This assumes the planes can fly -- apparently Brexit may ground them, too!
  • Mass return of unemployed Britons who can no longer work in Europe

Brexit is scheduled to happen on March 29, 2019.

Perhaps after that Kenney can lead a campaign to get Canadians to donate food and medicine to post-Brexit Britain. Murray Edwards, nowadays a resident of London, could serve as Kenney's man on the ground.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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