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Controversial Central Alberta MLA faces a serious fight within his own Wildrose Party

Joe Anglin

After a single term in office, controversial Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin is facing a serious nomination challenge -- by a former political ally who until days ago was president of his own Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre constituency association.

Anglin has appealed to the party to disallow the candidacy of Jason Nixon, an accountant in the west-central Alberta riding, claiming he was still the association's president when he began to campaign for the nomination, which the MLA argues is a violation of the party's rules.

The results of the appeal by the often-colourful former Green Party leader should be known very soon -- possibly even today.

But if Nixon is allowed to run for the nomination against the sitting MLA, Anglin says he warned Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith he is prepared to make the fight a public one. "I did tell Danielle I will take it public to my supporters. If the party decides against me, I'm going to take my appeal public."

After that, he said, if the party in effect fires him by choosing another candidate, "I will view this as my options are wide open."

The threat that the often very bluntly spoken MLA could run as an independent cannot be taken as hollow. As the candidate for the now-defunct Green Party in the neighbouring Lacombe-Ponoka riding during the 2008 election -- before a boundary redistribution moved the town of Rimbey into its current electoral district -- Anglin captured 22 per cent of the vote. If he could duplicate that feat in his current constituency, the results could be, well … interesting.

He ran again for the Wildrose Party in 2012 in Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House Sundre and beat the Progressive Conservative candidate, former Ralph-Klein-era minister Ty Lund, by a margin of 7,647 votes to 6,145.

But given who his challenger is, it is not unreasonable to wonder if this unusual challenge to a sitting MLA has been approved by the party hierarchy. For his part, Anglin confesses "I'm not the greatest of party persons," and admits "I can be abrasive and caustic when I'm on the hunt or feel passionately."

This self-assessment is certainly true, and if the American-born MLA -- whose curriculum vitae lists service in the U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Coast Guard plus stints on Rimbey Town Council and as "the White House communications liaison for George Bush Sr. in Kennebunkport, Maine" -- ends up not being a member of the Wildrose Party Legislative Caucus after the next Alberta election, it is a fact that many of his 16 Wildrose Party Legislative caucus colleagues will not be broken-hearted to see him go.

Recently, he was sharply critical of the failure of the right-wing party's MLAs to support a motion calling for schools to encourage gay-straight alliances. Anglin was not in the House on the day of the vote.

Anglin was first challenged for the party nomination this spring by Pieter Broere, a respected former dairy farmer who has been active in the Rimbey community for many years.

However, when the party learned Broere had been a member for only the previous four months, he was disqualified under a party rule that requires candidates to have been members for six months at the time of their nomination.

Then, early this month, Nixon came forward. In addition to being an accountant, Nixon, 34, is president of the Athabasca University Students' Union and a former worker with Calgary's Mustard Seed shelter and street ministry to the homeless.

A significant number of new members have recently joined the riding association, and many of them doubtless intend to support the challenger.

Alert readers of this blog will recall Anglin's blunt style in his response to then-municipal affairs minister Doug Griffiths and his chief of staff last year when he discovered he wasn’t on the minister's email list about a wildfire burning in the riding.

In a blistering exchange with chief of staff Tim Morrison, the MLA memorably described why he should have been included on the list:

"I've crawled 200 yards on my belly through human excrement with a marine buddy on each side of me; with fire so close it parted the hairs on my ass. I fought forest fires as a young volunteer well beyond exhaustion, as many are doing today. I've stared down the barrel of a .45 wondering if it was my time, and I have pointed a .38 at the temple of an armed mentally disturbed individual wondering if it was his. I have boarded a sinking seiner in the black of night in the north Pacific, to pull a captain to safely during a January ice storm. I've watched friends die, lose limbs, and crack up under the stress. Through it all, I still toss my lunch when I smell the burnt flesh of a corpse; and I always gag when I see the bloated body of a drowned victim, particularly when the water-soaked flesh separates from the bone after several days in the water. … Had you only been around 41 years ago to tell me not to worry my pretty little head, and leave it up to the experts; my life would have been so much simpler! I'm so glad you are in a position to tell me what current information is important, and what information is not!"

More recently, Anglin played a central role in a controversial announcement of government funding for a local seniors' facility, Rimoka Lodge -- to the annoyance of some influential local citizens.

In April, Anglin, a former member of the Rimoka Housing Foundation Board, sent out a news release informing constituents the board had received $13.3 million from the province to build a new seniors' lodge in Rimbey.

This was unusual, because Alberta's Progressive Conservative government jealously guards its right to make announcements of this nature. A spokesperson for Municipal Affairs Minister Guy Weadick stiffly denied that the information, which turned out to be basically correct, had yet been given the government's stamp of approval.

This situation no doubt arose from the annoyance all opposition MLAs' feel with the government's habit of letting PC loyalists make announcements about spending in opposition members' ridings.

Still, Paul McLauchlin, who was then chair of the Rimoka board as well as reeve of the surrounding Ponoka County, publicly chastised Anglin in the media for prematurely announcing the funding. "His announcement undermines the board's commitment to work with the ministry and to leave announcements to a future date when credit can be given," said McLauchlin in the Rimbey Review.

Anglin slapped back in a long letter to the Review accusing the Rimoka Housing Foundation Board of "engaging in partisan provincial politics."

McLaughlin and Rimbey Mayor Rick Pankiw, Anglin wrote, "need to quit bellyaching about who is going to get credit for announcing the new lodge and get busy doing their jobs."

One can feel a certain sympathy with Anglin in this particular matter, but it may have been the straw that broke the camel's back as his own party's supporters considered his confrontational style.

It's hard to imagine Anglin won't give the party a good fight if it decides to skid him. And it goes without saying that political bloggers, columnists and their ilk will mourn his departure from provincial politics, if that is indeed how this plays out.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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