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Fear and Loathing in Calgary Signal Hill: Rumble on the right breaks out in Calgary

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Ron Liepert

Coming soon to the new federal riding of Calgary Signal Hill: fear and loathing on the campaign trail.

Come with me on a savage journey into the heart of Alberta's never-ending Conservative nightmare: Alberta's former Worst Provincial Cabinet Minister is about to challenge Canada's undisputed Worst Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party of Canada nomination in the redistributed southwest Calgary federal riding!

In the corner on the right: Ron Liepert, 64, former AM radio disk jockey who served as press secretary to premier Peter Lougheed and went on as MLA for the provincial Calgary West riding under premier Ed Stelmach to rip through the ministries of education and what was then quaintly known as "health and wellness," leaving both departments in a shambles.

The perennial bull in the china shop of Alberta provincial politics, Liepert was the famously short-tempered minister who roused Alberta's teachers, hitherto practically a branch of the Progressive Conservative Party, to a state of open rebellion. They have since returned to sufficient quietude for their union and professional body to be known colloquially as the Alberta Tory Association (ATA).

As minister of wealth and hellness, Liepert launched Alberta's catastrophic experiment in health-care centralization, presided over the province's previous influenza immunization meltdown in 2009, pushed seniors' care toward a high-cost private model, watched a crisis in the province's emergency rooms boil over and brought in Stephen Duckett, the egotistical and undiplomatic Australian PhD economist, to lead Alberta Health Services into the darkness.

Indeed, Liepert became so unpopular as health minister that seniors would boo spontaneously when he walked into a room. Stelmach eventually had to shuffle him off to the Alberta love fest known as the Energy Ministry to get him out of harm's way.

To the astonishment of everyone who hadn't been paying attention to their political history, upon elevation to Alberta's top dynastic job, Premier Alison Redford jumped Liepert up to the Finance portfolio, his provincial swansong before what obviously turned out to be an insufficiently engaging retirement.

In the other right corner: Rob Anders, who is certainly Canada's worst current MP, and surely a serious candidate to be named the worst in Canadian history. Don't take my word for this: he has been dismissed as such by the normally lickspittle Calgary Herald!

As MP for the federal riding of Calgary West, Anders is best known for calling Nelson Mandela a terrorist and a communist. He was the only parliamentarian to vote against making the late South African president an honorary Canadian citizen. He suggested South Africans were better off under apartheid.

Anders, who is now 41, had his first political success in 1997 as part of the so-called Reform Party Snack Pack, along with fellow Alberta MPs Jason Kenney, who is now prime minister in waiting, and Rahim Jaffer, who has suffered a reversal of political fortunes. The term was a play on the lean and hungry Liberal "Rat Pack" of the Mulroney era -- as well as a cute observation that, whatever the three young Albertan politicians were, it wasn't lean and hungry.

Before that, Anders travelled south in 1994 to act as a "professional heckler" for a Republican candidate in Oklahoma. (He was labelled a "foreign political saboteur" for this by CNN.) He assailed Ralph Klein as a "cocktail Conservative," soft on Ottawa and not nearly far enough to the right.

As an MP, he voted with the Bloc Québécois to support a proposition that said Quebeckers could form a nation any time they darn well felt like it and could withdraw from any federal initiative. His was the only non-Bloc vote for the proposition.

He once boasted about how women throw themselves at his feet, explaining that as a consequence he’s taken a vow of chastity. (Just the same, he explained to a astonished and appalled reporter, he had "gone as far as kissing and kind of 'massaging,' if you will.")

In 2012, he famously fell asleep on TV in the House of Commons. The same year he accused NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair of hastening Jack Layton's death.

Even many good Harper Conservatives roll their eyes and look for an exit when the topic of Anders comes up. Indeed, he has a sort of unifying quality, uniting everyone -- hard right Conservatives, parlour pinks, citizens of Calgary and Canadians of all political strikes from coast to coast -- in cringing embarrassment.

Notwithstanding Anders' six successes at the polls since he was first elected at the age of 25, every so often, embarrassed Conservative voters in his riding launch an effort to skid him.

Another such attempt is apparently now under way, given a boost by the redrafting of federal riding boundaries in Calgary. Seemingly led by Liepert, who has self-identified as its leading candidate, a website touting the effort to topple Anders was spotted and Tweeted about yesterday morning by blogger Dave Cournoyer. The story was picked up later in the day by the Globe and Mail.

The contest promises to be a pitched proxy war between two branches of the Alberta House of Conservatism that have done battle before.

Liepert managed an unsuccessful campaign in 2004 to topple Anders by an unknown young candidate named Alison Redford. Redford, of course, went on to become the premier of Alberta.

In 2009, Anders' opponents tried again with a challenger named Donna Kennedy-Glans. Anders fought them off and Kennedy-Glans now sits as a minister in Redford's provincial cabinet.

In the 2012 provincial election, Anders returned the favour, campaigning hard for the Wildrose Party led by Danielle Smith -- lending former riding president and another seasoned campaigner from his brain trust to serve as Wildrose candidates. Redford's camp won that round.

The depth of feeling between the rival Tory groups was clear in the Globe's coverage of the latest development: "Those Red Tories, they never give up," Anders sniffed.

"They're going to go out and sign up Liberals and sign up New Democrats, and try to get a progressive coalition going. And so it's the tax cut guys versus the tax and spend folks. They're warm to Justin Trudeau and I'm a Harper loyalist," he said, telling the Globe's reporter his challengers are "a threat to real conservatism. They're a threat to the Prime Minister. They're not people who actually believe in tax cuts. They're not principled. They're not blue."

For his part, Liepert told the Globe: "I was a Conservative before Rob Anders was born. For him to say that we are anything but conservatives simply shows what kind of a character he is. He has no ethics. He will do whatever he can to try and discredit people…"

"I haven’t met one single person in the last dozen years who had positive things to say about him," declared Liepert, who has had a similar record of positive reviews of his political efforts over the years.

Still, I have to say that this time I agree with Liepert.

Good luck to him, though. Anders, while he appears to be a buffoon to most Canadians, has tight ties to Prime Minister Harper, who has called him "a true Reformer and a true Conservative" and "a faithful supporter."

He also has a record as a formidable campaigner who knows how to win elections in Calgary's well-heeled southern suburbs.

Any battle between Anders and Liepert promises to be as bloody and ugly as a street fight … and extremely entertaining.

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

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