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Alberta Tories send feds a message, but keep their most dangerous enemies close

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Alison Redford

Proving you really can have it both ways, Premier Alison Redford's Alberta Tories rapped the knuckles of their federal counterparts yesterday but kept their most dangerous enemies, members of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Wild Rose Country caucus, where they can keep an eye on them.

Redford Government insiders were furious so many of their federal brethren, including several prominent Alberta MPs, openly backed the market-fundamentalist Wildrose Party led by Danielle Smith in last spring's provincial general election, which despite the premier's comfortable majority once the dust had settled was a close-run thing.

So never no more, as long as Redford has anything to do with it, will rank-and-file members of Harper's so-called Conservative Party of Canada be automatically entitled to cast votes at Alberta Progressive Conservative events like annual general meeting taking place yesterday and today in Calgary. That's the knuckle rap.

However, PC Party members at the Cowtown bunfest voted, any Conservative Member of Parliament holding an Alberta riding -- and that would be 26 or 28 of them just at the moment -- still retains the right to an automatic vote at a PC AGM. That's the tip of the Florentine cloth cap to Niccolo Machiavelli's sage advice to keep your friends close and your enemies closer.

Instead of a political divorce, call it a trial separation.

This, judging from the media coverage of the vote, was deemed to be "a good compromise" by everyone in authority before the 1,100 delegates were sent back to sleep -- which on the face of it is odd, because the federal Tories that members of Redford's inner circle were the angriest at were the ones the members decided not to punish. Nevertheless, there is a kind of perverse logic to this outcome.

Presumably Redford's inner circle decided they needed both to send Harper's Alberta caucus a clear message about the dangers of not playing ball with the people who are still in control of Alberta’s vast petroleum resources and intend to stay that way, but also to keep open clear lines of communication with them.

This gesture accomplishes that goal without really goring anybody's oxen. This is because, while it is symbolic, it is essentially meaningless at the practical level. After all, there is nothing to prevent a now-disinvited federal Tory party member from becoming a provincial PC member for five bucks, and thereby continuing their Fifth Columnist activities.

Indeed, simultaneously being members of more than one political party nominally or officially at war with one another is considered quite normal in Alberta's eccentric political culture.

Thus many provincial Tories joined the Alberta Liberals (now known as the Liberaltarians or something) to vote in former Progressive Conservative Raj Sherman's successful leadership campaign last year -- though whether this was intended to help or hinder the former Official Opposition party is not so clear.

And while it is impossible to prove, it is likely that at least half the current Opposition Wildrose Party's membership also hold Progressive Conservative Party cards. Indeed, considerable numbers of Albertans are members of as many political parties as possible. Only the provincial NDP has eschewed the temptation to invite members of other parties to join their ranks as well -- although here's a bet that more than a few Alberta Knee-Dips quietly break that party's ban on simultaneously holding other memberships.

So from a practical standpoint, the only impact of yesterday's provincial cannonade across the federal party's bow may be an increase in PC memberships and a small bump in revenue.

However, from a practical point of view, the federal caucus has been sent a strong message that nevertheless doesn't slam the door on communication -- not that Wildrose enthusiasts like Calgary West MP Rob Anders or Calgary Southeast's Jason Kenney are going to be showing up at any Redford PC get-togethers any time soon.

What's more, if the Harper Tories go the way of their U.S. Republican exemplars, the Alberta PCs can now plausibly claim to have no connection to that Canadian offshoot of the Tea Party as they try to build a broad coalition of support that includes segments of Alberta society not traditionally associated with their party.

In that, they would not be so different from the Alberta Liberals, I mean the Liberalbertas, who have been shamefacedly claiming for years to have no connection whatsoever to the L-Shaped Party of Pierre Trudeau and his many successors.

Meanwhile, with Redford's vault in October 2011 from third place to the party’s leadership now made utterly secure, the Alberta Tories in convention also voted yesterday to make sure such an unexpected result would never happen again.

Henceforth and forevermore, the final ballot of a PC leadership race will have only two names on it -- a situation that had it been in effect in 2011 would almost certainly have assured the ascendancy of frontrunner Gary Mar to the leadership of the party and the premiership of Alberta.

This too is not as contradictory as it sounds.

Never mind the rhetoric about the party getting back to what worked well in the past. The practical effect of this change is to give the PC inner circle -- which now, of course, is Premier Redford's inner circle -- the edge in ensuring their favoured candidate triumphs when Redford eventually steps aside.

This in turn will seal forever her coup against the party establishment in 2011 and allow her to impose her vision of a restoration of Peter Lougheed's centrist principles on the sometimes restive and divided party.

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

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