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Former UCP MLA warns more scandals are coming for party as election nears

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It would be a huge mistake to count on the United Conservative Party unravelling fast enough to blow its big lead in public opinion polls by the time the next Alberta provincial election is upon us, which will be almost before we know it.

It is a virtual certainty that even most conservatives who, for one reason or another, are unhappy with Jason Kenney's authoritarian leadership style will stick with the party as long as there is a probability of UCP victory.

Still, for non-supporters it's at least mildly entertaining to watch the UCP apparently coming unstuck at precisely the moment a normal election strategy would call for even those whose faith is wavering to keep a smile on their faces and what they're thinking to themselves.

On Thursday, banished UCP MLA Prab Gill got some headlines warning that more UCP nomination scandals still lie ahead. In an email "obtained by Postmedia," the now-Independent MLA for Calgary-Greenway urged his former caucus mates to press their Maximum Leader to clear the air over how the party has been choosing its candidates.

Addressing his email to several MLAs still sitting in the UCP Caucus, Gill told them "you have the chance to end your political careers in service to higher ideals," and asked them if they will be able to tell themselves after the election they are "proud of everything you did?"

Well, good luck with that strategy. Kenney will stick with what he knows: Tight control of caucus members, swift retribution to anyone who steps out of line, and a sunny face pointed toward the public.

Given the hour, one can hardly blame him. With the electoral math suggesting a writ drop in April or soon thereafter, he doesn't really have the time to round up restive former Wildrosers who actually believed that stuff about a "grassroots guarantee" and horrified Red Tories who may still have some vestigial respect for fairness and due process.

Election speculation during the past few hours has focused on Premier Rachel Notley's announcement there will be a Throne Speech on March 18. Since former PC premier Alison Redford's silly "fixed election period" legislation remains on the books, the NDP would have to call the general election between the Throne Speech and the end of April with the date of the vote late in May.

Barring a calamity or a big surprise -- say, if the prime minister calls an early federal election in the same time frame -- that's the way things are going to unfold.

There's lots of speculation that the premier might call the election as soon as the Throne Speech has been read, and some that she may ask her MLAs to pass some legislation first before triggering the month-long campaign.

There is said to have been heated debate Notley's cabinet over whether to go sooner or later. Sounds like the advocates of a slightly later election have won that argument.

UCP nomination scandals far outnumber similar bumps on the road to voting day among NDP and Alberta Party constituencies. The Opposition party argues, perhaps with some justice, that that’s mainly because they have more contested nominations.

Regardless, the continuing embarrassment led Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills MLA Dave Hanson to try to hit back, with only limited success.

Hanson used a press release to try to lay some of the blame on "NDP rhetoric" for a brick tossed through his window. Needless to say, this was pretty lame -- especially considering the source of most heated rhetoric in Alberta these days -- and unless things get really desperate for the UCP, my guess is party officials will discreetly shush Hanson.

And there's even more to come?

In addition to the usual intemperate comments by nomination candidates on a variety of sensitive topics, here are some of the election-candidate-selection related embarrassments that have bedevilled Kenney's UCP in recent weeks:

  • UCP MLA Rick Strankman splits to sit as an Independent after complaining of Kenney's top-down leadership style and "unheard of" vote timing designed to help his successful opponent in the nomination race he lost.
  • It turns out the successful UCP nomination candidate in the Highwood riding didn’t disclose a past conviction for failure to provide a breathalyzer sample.
  • Meanwhile, the UCP MLA defeated in the Highwood nomination race asks Elections Alberta to investigate irregularities with the way the party election was conducted; another candidate complains to the party and then tells the media her concerns were all but ignored
  • Booted UCP MLA Derek Fildebrandt, now rebranded as leader of the libertarian Freedom Conservative Party, asks the Elections Commissioner to investigate funding irregularities in Kenney's leadership campaign.
  • The Office of the Election Commissioner launches investigation into the "Kamikaze" attack on Kenney's rival Brian Jean during the same 2017 leadership campaign.
  • Gill alleges in the Legislature that "suspicious donations" from Kenney's campaign were used to undermine Jean's campaign.
  • Accusations are levelled at an auto dealers' PAC that it illegally financed UCP pre-election activities while delivering a laundry list of demands for boutique legislation.
  • "Soldiers of Odin" show up at three candidates' beer and wings night in Edmonton-Henday West; one candidate is eventually disqualified for not condemning the SOO members with the alacrity of the other two.
  • The winning UCP nomination candidate in the Lac Ste. Anne riding is disqualified by the party for failing to report a "legal matter" involving a former girlfriend fired from his company.
  • Allegations of fraud and bribery are made against the winning candidate in the Calgary-East riding nomination race.
  • A candidate in the Brooks-Medicine Hat riding is disqualified for racist and Islamophobic language.

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

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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