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Departed MP's endorsement, big donations by candidate's firm, complicate complicated Conservative nomination race

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Greg McLean

Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to … get elected.

The contest to find a federal Conservative candidate to replace Calgary Centre MP Lee Richardson is turning snarly as the race grows tight enough among various species of Red, Blue and Wildrose Pink Tories to make it increasingly difficult to pick a frontrunner. The vote is scheduled to take place in one week.

Richardson's endorsement on Friday of Greg McLean, a Calgary investment advisor and "venture capitalist" who joined the race at the last possible instant before nominations closed, complicates matters further.

And now, talk of substantial donations -- to the tune of more than $30,000 -- to the far-right Wildrose provincial party by companies with which McLean is associated promise to get things spinning even faster.

To understand all this, alas, we have to plow through quite a bit of backstory.

So see if you can stay with us here … and while you do, remember that there are only 1,850 eligible voters who signed Conservative Party of Canada membership cards in time to take part in the constituency association's nomination vote. Remember also that in the normal course of affairs in Alberta, the winner of the Conservative nomination is automatically declared the winner of the seat -- although we haven't quite yet dispensed with the meaningless formality of actually holding an election. (Settle down. That was sarcasm.)

Also in the normal course of events, an endorsement by a departing Conservative MP in a Calgary riding would all but cinch it for the anointed candidate.

But alert readers will recall that when he pulled the plug in May, Richardson was one of the very few Red Tories still occupying a seat in the House of Commons. There can be little doubt that the last thing Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants to replace him is another Red Tory, which his endorsement sort of suggests McLean might be.

Richardson, by the way, went to work as Principal Secretary to Alberta Premier Alison Redford, who is perceived within this province as being pretty Red for a Tory herself, so presumably any candidate her guy endorses is going to get the votes of any of her supporters who remain in the federal riding's constituency association.

Meanwhile, the most credible seeming candidates for the Tory nomination up until McLean's last-minute arrival on the scene appeared to be Calgary lawyer Richard Billington, a past party functionary, Joan Crockatt, a commentator known for her right-wing economic views, and Jon Lord, a former provincial and municipal politician with ties to the social conservative crowd.

Notwithstanding his protestations that he prides himself on his ability to work with anyone, Lord appears to have gathered up the support of the riding's social conservatives. You know, basically the Lake of Fire crowd. Which, in fairness, doesn't make Lord a Lake of Fire believer, his name notwithstanding.

For her part, Crockatt -- who despite her conservative economic views professes to be very liberal on such social issues as abortion rights and gay marriage -- clearly hoped to build a winning combination of votes from riding association members who are progressive on social issues and those who are in the Harper Neo-Con Camp on economics. Obviously, Richardson's endorsement of McLean is a setback to her hopes.

Billington? Well, not being a Conservative or a riding resident, I’m not quite sure about him -- but presumably he hoped to emerge as an acceptable compromise candidate between Lord and Crockatt. McLean will also be vying for that role.

Now, stay with us here … there are plenty of Wildrose supporters among both Lord's followers (the Wildrose so-con faction) and among Crockatt's (the Wildrose neo-con faction), so you can count on Redford and her provincial Tories (who just hired Richardson, remember) not to like either of them.

This is said to be especially true in the case of Crockatt, who is scorned in Redford circles for endorsing the Wildrose Party in the recent provincial campaign in which the premier received a bad fright, although emerged victorious just the same after a hard fight. That may explain why, just today, a Redford cabinet minister was said to be out door-knocking with McLean. (Christine Cusanelli, c'mon down!)

So does it help or hinder McLean's chances that between 2009 and 2001, the company of which he was investment director -- Cavendish Investing Ltd. -- donated $32,000 to the Wildrose Party? This is a matter of public record, all it took was for someone to look -- which, this being the kind of battle it is, someone naturally did.

The bulk of that donation came in two lumps of $15,000, one in 2009 and one during the 2012 provincial election campaign.

In fairness, McLean wasn’t the only senior executive at Cavendish Investing and the company also gave $5,000 to Redford's campaign, but the connection certainly has tongues wagging.

McLean also received a Tweeted endorsement from Jeff Callaway, who is a former Wildrose Party president and was fund raising vice-president when the first $15,000 contribution from Cavendish came in.

All this makes it quite unclear to an observer just how these votes are going to split, not to mention those that start out with the other candidates in the race. At this point, it would seem, almost anything could happen.

Naturally, it is hoped here that this will result in the weakest possible Tory candidate to emerge on Aug. 25 -- allowing the NDP to win the by-election, or at least make a strong credibility building second-place showing, whenever Harper gets around to calling the vote.

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

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