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What's with that Wildrose leadership review? (Inquiring Albertans want to know!)

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Brian Jean

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Inquiring minds want to know: what’s up with that Wildrose Party leadership review?

Alert readers who bother to click all the way through the Wildrose website to the agenda of the Alberta Opposition party's November 13 annual general meeting in Calgary will note that the second-to-last item, scheduled to take place between 8 and 9 p.m. when delegates are chomping at the bit to get to the hospitality suites, is listed as "leadership review vote."

What the heck? Didn’t Brian Jean just save the party's bacon, sort of, in the May 5 general election?

What's more, the party's constitution doesn't require a leadership review and vote -- not just yet, anyway.

It does require the membership to be asked if they want a leadership vote once in every three AGMs. The last one was in October 2013, when then-leader Danielle Smith received an endorsement of better than 90 per cent in Red Deer, so the Wildrosers could certainly have waited until next year to entertain the idea of a review. And since Jean was chosen just last spring, not long before the election, you would have thought they would have wanted to. So why now?

At AlbertaPolitics.ca, being definite outsiders when it comes to Wildrose affairs, all we have are theories. These fall into three broad categories:

1)    Dissension in the ranks

2)    Dissension in caucus

3)    Negotiating a merger with the Tories

If it's true that some Wildrose members, dissatisfied with the Jean's underwhelming recent stagecraft in the Legislature and the media, have been muttering about a rebellion, perhaps a prudent decision has been made by his strategists to get the review over with now while there’s still some relief about the party's survival in the general election rather than after another year of wooden performances by the leader.

Certainly picking hills to die on like fighting for the right to sleep in till noon before coming to work, not to mention calling New Democrats liars for keeping their promises, can't be impressing too many people, even within Wildrose ranks!

So at a time and in circumstances when a strong performance by the opposition could have had business groups piling onto the Wildrose bandwagon, instead we have the NDP's Oct. 27 budget getting pretty decent reviews from folks in many surprising places. This gives the government of Premier Rachel Notley momentum that could count for a lot later.

Example: "This budget signals we have a government willing to listen and capable of taking a measured approach to managing the province’s finances," said a news release from … wait for it … the Alberta Chambers of Commerce! "This is what Albertans and business needs right now," President Ken Kobly concluded in the release.

It's unlikely just now Jean's foes in party ranks could muster enough votes on this coming Friday the 13th to force him to quit. If this keeps up, though, next year might be a different story. So perhaps now that the grumbling has grown audible, Jean's strategic brain trust has decided they’re smarter to go for it immediately than wait till next year, when, significantly, they'll have no choice.

As for the Wildrose Caucus, I can't imagine it's in a very happy place this week, especially after the dumbness about not wanting to start work at 9 a.m. becoming the party's No. 1 battle. Remember, most of the caucus's 22 members represent ridings populated by the kind of people who still get up at 4 a.m. to milk the cows, even if they don't do the milking by hand any more.

Now, think about this: Derek Fildebrandt, Jean's pick as finance critic, arguably the second most important position in the opposition shadow cabinet, is known to be ambitious. He's also the one responsible for complaining that by keeping its promises the NDP was misleading voters, and then picking a fight with the Globe and Mail when its reporter didn't report the story the way he thought she should.

So there's probably an argument as well for getting the review out of the way while Fildebrandt, a potential alternative leader, is still hopping around the room because of the self-inflicted wounds to both of his feet.

Finally, there's the matter of a merger with the Progressive Conservatives. A case could be made that a merger is more likely to succeed to the advantage of the Wildrose Party if it happens sooner than later, given the way the two parties are performing now.

Of course, both parties still dismiss the idea for public and member consumption, especially when it comes to members of either group who might still be inclined to make donations to one party or the other.

But what do you want to bet discreet meetings of bagmen and party officials are taking place behind closed doors? I wouldn't be surprised if conservative godfather Preston Manning is burning up the phone lines trying to do something to fix the Opposition's lame performance. This would be especially true nowadays with some business leaders reporting back that -- ahem! -- they’re not really all that unhappy with the NDP.

Giving Jean a mandate now could be perceived (discreetly) as a mandate to make a merger while the Wildrose Party might still come out on top. A year from now, the number of seats in the Legislature notwithstanding, the dynamics could be quite different, with the advantage to the PCs.

So pay attention on Friday the 13th. The numbers should tell the tale. There's not much chance, it's said here, Jean can muster the level of support Smith did in 2013. But if he comes close, he has a future. Not close enough -- 70 per cent? 60 per cent? -- maybe not so much.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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