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A man with a controversial past to seek mayor's office in Fort McMurray

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Mike Allen on his return from Minneapolis in 2013.Image: Screenshot of CTV video

Former Progressive Conservative MLA Mike Allen, a man who's been the subject of some interesting stories in recent Alberta political history, announced Tuesday he plans to run for mayor of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB), which in practical terms means mayor of Fort McMurray.

Nowadays, the former music store owner is a councillor on the RMWB municipal council, so his run for mayor announced yesterday seems like a logical enough next step.

And it has been quite a long time since the summer of 2013 when as MLA for Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo he was in Minnesota to show the Alberta flag at a meeting of Midwestern state legislators and found himself excited to be in St. Paul with time on his hands.

On July 16, 2013, he was busted by St. Paul police in a prostitution sting operation.

It is worth remembering that the other PC MLA on that trip, a person of sound judgment and upright character, chose to visit a museum.

After Allen's arrest was reported by the St. Paul Pioneer Press, he volunteered to resign from the PC caucus and sit as an Independent. His resignation was accepted. You can count on it, though, it was made clear to Allen that if he didn't quit, he would be fired.

Eventually charged with what the Minnesota justice system calls a "gross misdemeanor," Allen agreed to plead guilty and the charge was reduced to a plain old garden-variety misdemeanor. He was fined $500, sentenced to a year on probation to be served as far from Minnesota as possible, and sent home to Alberta in disgrace -- or so we thought at the time.

That was until Alison Redford, who was premier at the time of Allen's arrest, was fired by her own caucus in March 2014 -- the topic of the previous story on this blog, by pure coincidence.

Say what you will about Redford -- and that's a lot, judging by the response on social media and in the comments section of this blog to Tuesday's story looking back at her departure from politics -- she never would have allowed Allen to return to the fold after such a transgression.

Redford judged him guilty of a gross political and social misdemeanor -- and rightly so, when you think about the real implications of a well-connected foreign politician trying to hire a vulnerable sex worker, even if she did turn out to have a badge, a gun and a set of real steel handcuffs.

But it wasn't much more than three months later that Dave Hancock, who had replaced Redford in an interim role as premier until someone could be found who could lead the party into the next election with a reasonable chance of success, welcomed Allen back into the Tory caucus.

This was controversial, but apparently not among Conservative leaders.

"Mike has paid his penalty and he has paid a personal price," PC caucus whip George VanderBurg said at the time, according to the Edmonton Journal. He didn't explain what that personal price might have been, other than a year on the west side of the legislature. "He handled himself well through this," VanderBurg added.

Allen's legal problems in Minneapolis-St. Paul came back to haunt Jim Prentice, the premier the PCs chose to permanently replace Hancock, at the end of April 2015, one week before the election that would bring the NDP led by Rachel Notley to power.

"Jim Prentice defends PC Alberta election candidate convicted of soliciting prostitute," said the headline in the National Post, with similar headlines in all of Postmedia's little regional postlets.

"Alberta Premier Jim Prentice says a PC election candidate convicted of soliciting a prostitute is acceptable because he owned up to what he did," explained the subhead.

Less than a week before an election nobody wanted with his party trailing badly in the polls, that wasn't what Prentice needed to see in the headlines.

We will never know for sure, of course, how big a role that played in Prentice's downfall on May 5, but it can't have helped. It certainly distracted the media, and possibly quite a few voters, from what Prentice had planned to make the day's talking point, to wit, that Civilization As We Know It Will End if Albertans elected NDP Leader Rachel Notley as premier.

Whatever the reason, they did elect Notley, and civilization didn't end. Indeed, from the vantage point of 2021 with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, things now look pretty good when Notley was premier.

Allen, who had served on RMWB council before his election to the legislature in 2012, lost in the 2015 election to Wildrose candidate Tany Yao, who is now a United Conservative Party MLA. Allen successfully returned to council in 2017.

He told Fort McMurray Today on Tuesday that "right now my platform is to continue on with the completion of the strategic plan that we have now." He promised to flesh out the details in the next few months.

He said he also hopes to improve the municipality's relationship with industry, local businesses and Indigenous communities and that he'd stick with Mayor Don Scott's effort to keep Fort Mac out of Alberta Health Services' centralized provincial EMS dispatch service.

Mayor Scott, also a former PC MLA who served briefly as a cabinet minister, has not yet announced if he will seek re-election.

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 at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: Screenshot of CTV video

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