Lindsay Blackett, Minister of Culture and Community Spirit in Premier Ed Stelmach's cabinet, is expected to be the next MLA to enter the contest to lead Alberta's Progressive Conservatives. He's expected to jump as soon as the spring sitting of the Legislature grinds to a halt.
Blackett, the 50-year-old MLA for Calgary-North West, is seemingly best known for his use of the S-word to describe the efforts of our Albertan film makers, whose work his department is supposed to encourage. "Why do I fund so much crap?" he famously, and a little plaintively, mused last summer.
Blackett's remark was mildly controversial for a few days, especially among local filmmakers, and he later apologized for his salty language, if not for the sentiment it expressed.
One suspects that many ordinary Albertans -- most of whom have surely never actually sat through a film produced in this province -- were more amused than offended by his remark, and may even have felt a little admiration for the minister's plain speaking.
Still, this seems a frail credential on which to base a serious run for the leadership of the still-mighty Alberta Tories -- especially against heavyweight candidates like Gary Mar, Alison Redford and Ted Morton, all from the Calgary area, and Doug Horner, from the Edmonton region, each one a former holder of one or more senior cabinet posts.
This is especially so since the price of admission to the Conservative leadership race will now be $40,000, a sum certain to discourage candidates with junior portfolios (or none at all) who are really just thinking about an opportunity to raise their profiles a little.
Yet, if he can come up with the steep entry fee, Blackett can have a pretty serious impact with a campaign that may be less than completely serious. After all, he would stand a chance of being king-maker, and that may be attraction enough for an ambitious politician looking ahead toward what the future may hold, an election cycle or two from now.
Without a doubt the entry of another candidate into the leadership contest is certain to have a significant effect on the way the race unfolds. This will be even more true if, as widely believed, Blackett is joined by at least one more MLA from the Edmonton area and possibly a non-MLA as well.
Other potential candidates frequently mentioned in this context are Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, MLA for Edmonton-Castle Downs, and the Parliamentary Assistant for Health and Wellness, Fred Horne, MLA for Edmonton-Rutherford. Horne, of course, replaced Independent Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Raj Sherman in the Parliamentary Assistant's role when Sherman was kicked out of the Tory caucus by Premier Stelmach on Nov. 22 for speaking his mind too plainly.
Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths, another candidate in this not-quite-serious, not-quite-not-serious category, has already joined the race.
New candidates -- especially if there are lots -- promise to make the race more interesting because it would make the outcome harder to predict. For certain, more candidates make it tougher for front-runner Mar to win, and probably almost impossible for former finance minister and budget hardliner Morton.
In Mar's case, this is because of the well known tendency of candidates in a contest with multiple players to gang up on the front-runner in hopes that, if elected, "anyone but" can do more for them personally and for their issues.
In Morton's, it's because of the slight numerical advantage Red Tories have over fiscal fundamentalists in Alberta PC ranks. Since he's the only hard-right candidate in the race, Morton needs to win on the first ballot or he isn't going to win at all. A surfeit of candidates makes the likelihood of any candidate winning cleanly on the first ballot extremely small.
About all we can predict with comfort, however, is that the more candidates who join the leadership race, the harder it will be to pick a winner.
Also, the more candidates who throw their hats in the ring, the happier Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith will be -- especially if a crowded Tory field results in the defeat of Dr. Morton, the potential Conservative leader most likely to appeal to her right-wing party's stalwarts.
As for the other opposition parties, sad to say, none seems capable of taking advantage of what should have been their breakthrough moment.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.