Alberta's municipal affairs minister quit his cabinet post yesterday, by the sound of it because he intends to run for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party.
If that's the reason for Ken Hughes unexpectedly showing up in one of the back rows of the legislature's latest seating chart -- he didn't give a lot of notice that he'd asked to be moved there -- it will surely come as a huge relief to the PC party executive.
Hughes, who was also former premier Alison Redford's energy minister for a spell after he got elected to the legislature in 2012, may not be the most scintillating or charismatic guy you'll ever meet, but at least he seems capable of doing the premier's job in a pedestrian sort of way.
So if that's what this is actually about, after a week of old party warhorses publicly saying "hell no, I won't go," it can no longer be said that no one who can actually do the job is interested in it.
It's said here it was a little odd Hughes didn't just say he's running, instead promising to make another announcement about something soon and referring everyone to an evocatively named website that tells about how he "has demonstrated personal strength of character," "has a frugal approach to money" and "has an ability to dream big and then deliver." (Examples please!)
Presumably in an effort to establish some outsider cred, the site also says the former Southern Alberta Member of Parliament is "someone who has not spent most of their last 15 years in and around politics," which if you ask me is a bit of a stretch, if not an outright howler.
It's true that as the Chair of the Board of Alberta Health Services from 2008 to 2011, Hughes wasn't actually an elected politician. But since premier Ed Stelmach did away with regional health authorities in 2008, it's hard to imagine a more political job in this province -- or a job that anyone could land without being politically connected.
Well, that was back in the days when Alberta Health services still had an independent governing board, before Redford Government Health Minister Fred Horne went and fired them all for paying insufficient attention to his orders. It's safe to say that if Hughes hadn't resigned that position in 2011 to run for Redford's party, AHS would still be governed by its board.
More likely, though, this was just a way to squeeze two news hits out of an essentially dull story weirdly scheduled on a day when the national media had bigger fish to fry. To wit: the widely predicted defeat of the Parti Quebecois government in Quebec.
Either that or Hughes hasn't quite raised the $50,000 he's going to need to get his name on the ballot and has a few more calls to make.
We'll just have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, as is well known, several other cabinet ministers have been dropping hints about being interested in the leadership race without actually doing anything that Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock has decreed would require them to give up their cabinet posts.
This list includes Finance Minister Doug Horner, Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk, Justice Minister Jonathan Denis and Energy Minister Diana McQueen.
Of this group, Hughes and Horner are probably the most likely candidates, based on their experience and diplomatic skills. Although, for his part, Horner is also still doing the dance of a thousand fans -- hinting at plenty but not actually revealing very much.
Regardless of whom is chosen, it still seems quite possible it will turn out to be a fairly short-term gig, although with the hope of a more permanent position afterward as leader of the opposition. So perhaps we shouldn't rule out Lukaszuk, who seems to have no friends in his own party but does have the sort of aggressive personality usually associated with the opposition benches.
There's a school of thought -- nicely articulated by Old Warhorse Jim Dinning in his recent I'm-not-a-candidate announcement -- that the only way the party can survive is by choosing a real outsider. So far, though, while several names have been mentioned, none has actually put up his or her hand and volunteered.
Rumoured outsiders have included former Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel, who at nearly 69 seems a little long in the tooth to start a new career; banker and former Conservative Parliamentarian Jim Prentice, who those in the know say is more interested in a timely return to the greener pastures of the Ottawa Valley; and current Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, whose putative candidacy, presumably, is merely somebody's fevered pipedream.
Regardless, if more candidates don't come forward soon, the party may have to adopt a "negative option leadership candidacy" policy or resign itself to an extremely boring runoff between Hughes and Horner, with a bow-tied Lukaszuk taking annoying potshots from the peanut galleries.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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