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Jason Kenney would do well to beware the Ides of March in Alberta conservative politics

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Brian Jean, back when he was Opposition leader (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

I suppose today, the day before the date in 44 BC made famous by the demise of Julius Caesar, would be an appropriate moment to remind all potential victims of political plots … beware the Ides of March!

It says something for both the ruthlessness and absent likeability of United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney that I'm sitting here at my typewriter taking seriously a rumour that Brian Jean, his formal rival for the top UCP job, may be about to run for the Alberta Party.

Here's what my colleague Dave Cournoyer, author of the excellent Daveberta.ca political blog, wrote yesterday: "Just over a year since he resigned as the MLA for Fort McMurray-Conklin, former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean is said to be making a big announcement later this week -- and the rumour mill is churning hard with news that Jean could jump back into Alberta politics as the Alberta Party candidate in the new Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche district in the upcoming election."

If that comes to pass, though, it will be one of the more bizarre developments in Alberta political history.

Jean spent most of the life of Premier Rachel Notley's NDP government working very hard to unite the right under a single banner, the better to crush the orange wave that unexpectedly swamped Alberta in 2015.

Who can forget the photo of Jean, up-thrust thumb raised in jubilation, taken the night members of the Wildrose Party he led and the Progressive Conservative Party led by Kenney voted to become a single entity, soon to be known as the UCP?

Of course, back then Jean had a reasonable expectation the work he'd done would be rewarded with the UCP leadership, and perhaps the premiership of Alberta after that. It was before the "Kamikaze Mission," the UCP voting scandal that has grabbed international attention, and other unsavoury activities provided some hints of how far Kenney is prepared to go to win.

Were Jean to proceed with this most unlikely venture, he would find himself running alongside former Wildrose MLA Joe Anglin, a man who holds a record of sorts for political affiliations.

Anglin was leader of the Alberta Greens in the mid-00s. He was elected in 2012 as Wildrose MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre. He left the Wildrose Party in 2014, before Jean took over, to sit as an Independent after he lost the Wildrose nomination to Jason Nixon, now Kenney's UCP House Leader. He sought the Progressive Conservative nomination in 2015 but was disallowed by the party. Last year, he announced he would run for the Freedom Conservative Party led by Derek Fildebrandt -- who was pushed out of the UCP by Kenney. Now Anglin is an Alberta Party candidate.

"My detractors will claim I jumped from party to party," Anglin said in a recent email. "There is some truth to this, but the allegation is misleading. … Since 2008, I have been a candidate for two political parties; in both situations, both parties collapsed after they abandoned their principles for the pursuit … of power. I didn't collapse with them, and I have never abandoned my principles. I do not plan to start now!"

Moreover, he observed, unlike some, "I never stabbed Brian Jean in the back!"

Jean is no Joe Anglin. Despite the buzz, I'd be surprised if he runs for another party -- even the Alberta Party.

Still, under leader Stephen Mandel the Alberta Party seems to be trying to take its political evolution full circle, back to the far-right fringe where it started out. And that wouldn't actually be all that different from the Wildrose Party Jean improbably saved in 2014, not long after he had quit as a Conservative MP for Fort Mac.

Readers will recall that happened in the wake of Danielle Smith's attempt to lead her permanently discontented caucus back to the Progressive Conservative mother ship, with only partial success.

We'll see what Jean has to say, if anything. Once bitten, I for one am twice shy. Having been fooled by Jean's last big political announcement -- which turned out to be, "Kim and I are having a baby!" -- I'm not about to get worked up about more supposedly earth-shattering Brian Jean news.

But if it turns out Kenney, the man who successfully united Alberta's right, is so disliked by his former rivals that right-uniters like Jean can become reconstituted vote-splitters, well, surely that says something about the man, does it not?

Beware the Ides of March?

He is a dreamer; let us leave him: pass.

Exeunt all except BRUTUS and CASSIUS.

This just in … 10:30 a.m. MST, Thursday, March 14

This morning's edition of the Calgary Sun brings Postmedia political columnist Rick Bell's claim Brian Jean is about to announce he's the new leader of … the Freedom Conservative Party.

Mr. Bell, who appears from his columns to be an ardent supporter of Jason Kenney and the UCP, explained the meaning of this in his usual staccato style, which often eschews complete sentences: "Taking on the United Conservatives under Jason Kenney as well as the Notley NDP. Splitting the conservative vote."

Once upon a time, the FCP (barely) occupied the extreme right-wing fringe of Alberta conservative politics, but became a personal vehicle for former Wildrose and UCP Caucus member Derek Fildebrandt, whose star fell after Kenney became the "united" party's leader.

On its face, Jean as FCP leader seems even less likely than Jean as an Alberta Party candidate and potential leader. Jean once tried, unsuccessfully, to kick Fildebrandt out of the Wildrose caucus. Why would Fildebrandt give up the FCP leadership to a former boss he believes treated him unfairly?

But the Alberta right nowadays is both overconfident of victory (those polls!) and in the process of fracturing into ideological splinters, as happens when a political movement is caught in the grip of fundamentalist dogma. So who knows?

As a general rule, readers can assume Cournoyer is a more reliable political observer than Bell. But in this case, nobody, least of all me, really has a clear idea of what's going on.

One is inevitably reminded of the immortal words of the late John F. Kennedy, president of the United States: "Where there's smoke, there's usually a smoke-making machine."

Stand by.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: David J. Climenhaga

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