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As a Liberal, talented Ruth Kelly likely doomed against Tory tide of mediocrity

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Ruth Kelly

Any normal province as poorly served by its Members of Parliament as is Alberta would surely turn the deadwood out.

But then, in any normal province a candidate as promising as the energetic Ruth Kelly would be a cinch to beat an underperformer like Edmonton-Spruce Grove Conservative MP and federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose.

Political blogger Dave Cournoyer reported earlier this week that Kelly, the successful publisher of Alberta Venture Magazine and former president of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, is likely to step forward to carry the Liberal banner against Ambrose in the next federal election in the riding west of the city.

As a Chamber of Commerce member, Kelly was a big booster of Edmonton's dream to host Expo 2017. She's reported to be furious that the plan was torpedoed by Prime Minster Stephen Harper's cabinet with nary a word of dissent from of his troupe of disengaged and complacent Alberta MPs.

But Alberta is no normal province. Out here on the western fringe of the Great Plains, we seem to take pride in the fact we send underperforming Conservatives to Ottawa, no matter what. In a typical election year, that would be all 28 of them. With remarkably few exceptions, our Conservative MPs are as uninspiring and forgettable a lot as one can imagine.

And so, whenever the next federal election comes, the dynamic and articulate Kelly, named Woman of the Year in 2008 by Canadian Women in Communications, will likely be crushed by the forgettable Ambrose, who occupies her present post in cabinet after being dumped as environment minister after an accident-prone stint in that role.

Alert readers of an argumentative turn may point out that in 2008, voters in Edmonton-Strathcona surprised themselves and everyone else in the province by electing New Democrat Linda Duncan. But Edmonton-Strathcona is an unusual riding, packed with students, and 2008 was an unusual year for a riding that had been represented for too long by Rahim Jaffer, known as "Canada’s Laziest MP."

By the way, that's saying something in this province, where no one could ever accuse the majority of Alberta's Conservative MPs of being scoundrels. That would simply be too much work! Nope, most of them just collect their paycheques and … well, who knows, really? Make investments in Ottawa residential property, one supposes.

What's more, despite all that, Duncan's re-election is no sure thing. Canada's Old New Government is busy jumping up Tiny Tory Ryan Hastman, deemed by their strategists as likely to appeal to university students, treating him almost as if he were already the MP for the university-area riding.

Getting back to Kelly, she clearly hopes to harness the anger of the region’s plentiful small-c conservatives at the federal government's lack of support for much of anything in this sure-thing region, but especially Edmonton's recently expressed hope to play host to Expo during Canada's 150th birthday year.

The idea had aroused considerable enthusiasm among municipal politicians and the business crowd generally, not to mention more than a few provincial MLAs. After all, it was just the sort of thing that would normally get the Chamber of Commerce types who pack most Conservative caucus rooms to build up a head of steam.

But Prime Minister Harper's inner circle in Ottawa were clearly under-whelmed by the scheme -- especially its price tag -- in a year when they want to play fiscal tough guys and when their focus is on winning votes in the Toronto area, where voters aren't guaranteed to vote Conservative no matter what.

So last fall federal Heritage Minister James Moore sent Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel a drop-dead letter, and that was then end of Edmonton's expository ambitions for 2017. Edmonton's financial request from the feds, by the way, was about the same as the sum the Harper government hosed away on three days of "security" at the G20 police riot last summer, but never mind that.

Meanwhile, some provincial Conservatives were unhappy about Ottawa's lack of interest as they contemplated the many ways this could rebound against the increasingly ramshackle government of Premier Ed Stelmach. Of course, this kind of talk has little impact on Harper insiders, because they’re mostly busy campaigning for the far-right Wildrose Alliance Party in hopes that with a Wildrose majority in Edmonton and a Harperite majority in Ottawa they can team up to put paid to the Canada Health Act.

Meanwhile, despite the public ire of Mayor Mandel and other Expo backers, Edmonton-area Conservative MPs could barely stifle their yawns.

Most had nothing whatsoever to say. One, Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber, bestirred himself long enough to take a rare break from his usual paeans to lengthy prison terms and attacks on inconvenient census forms and publish a blog post dismissing the Expo plan as a subsidy for developers!

There may be something to that argument, of course. But it was nevertheless astonishing to hear Rathgeber sounding like a disaffected West Coast New Democrat, especially in light of his previous day’s post cheering the wonderful time had by all at the (heavily taxpayer supported) Vancouver Olympics.

Well, never mind all that. This is Alberta, where we keep hoping all those immigrants from elsewhere in Canada will eventually change the political calculus, and where nothing ever changes.

Rathgeber is sure to win the next election with ease no matter what he says or does. So, presumably, is Ambrose, despite Kelly's obvious profile and talents.

As for Duncan, it will take hard work and the true grit of Alberta’s social democrats to send her back to Ottawa.

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

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