Dodging political fallout from his much publicized "A-Bomb" attack on Alberta's deputy premier, Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney was trying to persuade his credulous compatriots yesterday the relationship between Alberta's many Conservative MPs and its similarly numerous Progressive Conservative MLAs is "phenomenally positive."
This just ain't so, as everyone understands who is in the loop -- a group that is quite large, although apparently not so big it includes the crème de la crème of the national media in Ottawa.
For this reason, we shouldn't be astonished by scuttlebutt that several of the grandees of the Parliamentary Press Gallery for several days sat on Kenney's A-Bomb email expressing his frank opinion of Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk while they debated whether or not he had actually intended to click "reply-all."
Our national media doesn't do a very good job of explaining the various parts of this country to one another, and from the perspective of some members of the Ottawa press gallery, this may not have seemed like such a big deal. Others, of course, are in on the conspiracy.
But -- trust me, people -- the deep and growing gulf between Premier Alison Redford's PCs and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative Party is a big deal -- big enough, at any rate, to have some implications for the rest of the country.
Airdrie-Chestermere MLA Rob Anderson, House leader of the rightward-tilting Wildrose Party, summed up reality most succinctly yesterday: "It's clear that there aren't great relations between Prime Minister Stephen Harper's team and Premier Redford's team," he told the Edmonton Journal.
From Anderson's perspective, this is knock on the Redford PCs. After all, from the Wildrose point of view, Harper's grim ideological puritans have it right, and Redford's idea that you can put a human face on capitalism is a shocking heresy.
But whether or not we accept the Wildrose viewpoint, Anderson called it bang on when he told the Edmonton Journal: "There are very, very few federal MPs that are supportive of the provincial Tories. … The vast majority are supportive of the Wildrose."
Indeed, he accurately stated, "the provincial wing of the federal Conservative Party is the Wildrose, there is no doubt."
Maybe it wasn't wise of him to admit that the Wildrose Party is nothing more than a branch office of the federal Conservatives -- increasingly dominated, as the federal branch is, by Mike Harris loyalists and other dead-enders from Ontario. After all, aren't Albertans supposed to have a maverick streak of Western independent-mindedness?
But it is reality. Indeed, as was said in this space during the recent Alberta provincial election campaign, the Harper Government's open support for the Wildrose Party was the elephant in the room. "A case can be made that at the strategic and technical levels, the federal and provincial neo-Con parties are virtually interchangeable," I wrote on March 21. "This is a big change from the not-so-distant past when it was Alberta Conservatives at the provincial and federal levels who were essentially the same people."
Harper's party lent seasoned campaign staff and expertise to Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith and contributed candidates and workers from the ranks of federal Tory MPs' staffs. Tory MPs endorsed individual Wildrose candidates and, in the closing days of the campaign when a Wildrose victory really seemed possible, Harper let loose his Alberta caucus to campaign openly on behalf of Smith's party.
It is said here that this means we will increasingly see divergent approaches on many issues taken by the Redford Tories and the Harper Neo-Cons.
For example, beholden as they are to the Lake of Fire set, I doubt you ever would have seen the Wildrose Party or their Harper Tory head office admitting, as Redford's health minister did this week, that it was "derogatory and insulting" for Alberta Health to classify homosexuality as a mental illness in the province's health care billing code. The code was changed at the end of last month, Fred Horne told the Whitecourt Star.
You can expect increasingly divergent positions on a variety of other funding and policy questions where in the past the Alberta Tories would have played ball -- to the prime minister's great distress. Indeed, they may even no longer be singing from the same hymnbook on pipeline development!
The upcoming nomination fight in the federal riding of Calgary Centre may also become the scene of a rumble between Redford and Harper Conservatives.
During the Alberta election campaign, Harper's strategists clearly hoped to engineer a reverse takeover of the big-tent Alberta Tories, just as the far-right Reform Party under Preston Manning used the mechanism of the Canadian Alliance to colonize and destroy the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada during the Invasion of the Party Snatchers in 2003.
That they failed means Redford is likely to be premier until well after the next federal election, and with Kenney's help the elephant in the room has undeniably materialized -- large, betusked, red eyes glaring with hostility and quite possibly of a mind to stand by while a few more federal non-Conservatives are elected in Alberta.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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