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Is former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean plotting a comeback?

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Former Wildrose Leader Brian Jean. (Photo: Facebook).

So, now that it's 2019, what's Brian Jean up to?

Maybe it's just me, but he's sure acting like a guy who's thinking about being a political candidate again!

You remember Brian Jean, don't you? He used to be the leader of the Wildrose Party.

Indeed, he was the guy who emerged out of the weeds around Fort McMurray after retiring as the region's member of Parliament in January 2014 to save the Wildrose Party from the fate Danielle Smith and Jim Prentice had plotted for it, which was basically to drive a stake through its metaphorical heart.

As alert readers of this blog will recall, in 2014 Ms. Smith was the leader of the Wildrose Party Opposition in the Alberta legislature.

In December of that year, she led eight of her MLAs across the floor to join the PC government led by Mr. Prentice, a political coup that looked brilliant at the moment it happened. The Edmonton Journal crowed that Mr. Prentice had "crushed" the opposition and created "a staggering 72-member political juggernaut."

Some juggernaut. The bold strike quickly turned into a disaster for Alberta's small-c conservatives, and in particular for the Wildrose turncoats in the legislature. In addition to Ms. Smith, the defectors were Rob Anderson, the party's House Leader, plus Gary Bikman, Rod Fox, Jason Hale, Bruce McAllister, Blake Pedersen, Bruce Rowe and Jeff Wilson. Remember them? Probably not. Not one of them remained in the House after the May 5, 2015 general election.

Five Wildrose MLAs didn't heed their former leader's call, but to say they were a dispirited crew when Mr. Jean stepped up to the plate would be an understatement.

Mr. Jean was elected leader of the foundering party on Feb. 25, 2015. He was elected to the legislature with 21 MLAs in the election that brought a majority NDP government under Premier Rachel Notley to power.

After that, he soldiered away, turning the party into a viable opposition despite having to deal with both weak and rebellious caucus members. He worked hard to unite the Progressive Conservatives and his Wildrosers in a new party he hoped to lead.

But then Jason Kenney appeared out of the Ottawa woodwork, all slick talk and dirty tricks. In the fall of 2017, Mr. Kenney turned Mr. Jean's political dreams into road kill. Elections Alberta is now investigating the financing of the campaign of another leadership candidate, Calgary investment dealer Jeff Callaway, amid allegations it was ginned up as a "Kamikaze run" to undermine Mr. Jean while Mr. Kenney kept his paws clean.

If Mr. Jean concluded he was treated shabbily by the Kenney crowd, presumably most of us would agree.

So, all told, 2018 cannot have been an easy year for Mr. Jean. After his defeat by Mr. Kenney, he quickly exited provincial politics, stage right, resigning his seat on March 5. He's mostly flown under the political radar since then, concentrating on his family (he married his former Parliamentary special assistant Kimberly Michelutti in 2016) and his family's businesses.

In late November, he lost his mother, Frances Jean, one of Fort Mac's most prominent business people and a huge influence in her son's life. She was 86.

Now, however, Mr. Jean has popped onto the radar again.

On Christmas Day, he published a letter on his Facebook page explaining that while in 2018 "I mostly kept my nose out of politics," in 2019 "I will be doing advocacy work to help return prosperity to Canada by fighting for the principles that led to Confederation." He asked readers to visit BrianJean.ca.

He also sent out large numbers of Christmas cards to former supporters that, in addition to the normal seasonal message, asked them to visit the website.

On Saturday, he posted a similar statement in his Facebook page's "About" section. "I will fight for the issues that matter to you that have been forgotten by our federal government and attacked by our provincial government," he said in that one. "I'm going to be an activist for Albertans and their families to make sure governments stay accountable and work for the people they're supposed to: you."

He repeated his plea for readers to visit BrianJean.ca. To do what? To "help me be more vocal and get our message out."

If you go to the website, there's a form to let you subscribe to Mr. Jean's mailing list. Nothing more. It's rather mysterious.

So what's up? Is he plotting some kind of comeback?

I've heard it said Mr. Jean is determined not to be the new Nancy Betkowski. This may be in response to rumours on social media he's been eyeing the Alberta Party now led by former Edmonton Mayor and PC cabinet minister Stephen Mandel as a political vehicle. Or not.

Ms. Betkowski, also known as Nancy MacBeth, was the Alberta Conservative who lost the leadership race to Ralph Klein in 1992, rebranded herself as leader of the Alberta Liberals and lost to Mr. Klein again, very badly, in the 2001 general election.

Well, at least we know Mr. Jean won't run as a Liberal. (Joke.) But that tidbit should tell us something about his thinking too.

Maybe Mr. Jean figures he can have another kick at the can if Mr. Kenney manages to prove he's still a winner in Edmonton and then heads back to Ottawa to replace the hapless Andrew Scheer as a more credible challenger to Justin Trudeau. This would be sort of a Scott Moe strategy, Mr. Moe being the underwhelming Saskatchewan premier who replaced Brad Wall last year.

Or maybe Mr. Jean is operating on the theory there's no point coming back if someone doesn't ask you to.

Maybe he's just dipping his toe in the water to see how inviting it is.

Maybe he sent former supporters all those Christmas cards just to see if they remember his name.

Whatever it was, we should keep an eye on Mr. Jean in 2019, methinks.

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: Facebook

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