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Lawsuit and ASIRT investigation illuminate the Alberta Tory Party's existential crisis

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Rick Hanson

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Two news stories yesterday illustrate the fatally deteriorating state of the once mighty and dynastic Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta.

The front-page headline on yesterday's edition of the Edmonton Metro free newspaper proclaims that another lawsuit has been filed over the PC nomination election last March in Edmonton-Ellerslie.

The legal action in question, reporter Ryan Tumilty wrote, has been filed by would-be Tory candidate Balraj Manhas, who alleges nine people in the Conservative Party conspired to keep him out of the nomination race even though he believes he had sufficient support for a crack at winning.

The other lawsuit referenced in Tumilty's story about what the reporter called the "scandal-plagued" nomination race (there are only two legal cases, neither settled) is a defamation suit being pursued by Manhas's opponent, former Edmonton-Ellerslie MLA Naresh Bhardwaj. Bhardwaj is suing one of Manhas's supporters over allegations of bribery that resulted in the MLA stepping down as incumbent candidate in what then seemed like a safe Tory seat.

Certainly the accusation had a negative impact on the PCs' election chances, but it probably played only a small role in the NDP's victory in the May 5 election, both in Edmonton-Ellerslie and province-wide. So, in effect, it seems as if Manhas is suing over losing the opportunity to be defeated by New Democrat Rod Loyola. In the event, that honour went to Harman Kandola, who was chosen as the PC candidate.

The second story concerns an investigation by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team, which investigates matters involving sworn police officers, of actions by former Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson, who was the PC candidate in the Calgary-Cross riding on May 5, during his final days with the police department.

The story, written in Sun columnist Rick Bell's imitable call-and-response style, deals with how a decision to assign 22 new police officers to Calgary's northeast quadrant, which encompasses the riding Hanson was running in, was made just three days before the former chief retired to pursue his short political career.

I use the passive voice, by the way, because so far it is far from clear who made the initial recommendation to assign the officers, or why, although Bell notes that it was approved by the Calgary Police Commission with "not a single syllable of displeasure" on March 24.

Later yesterday, indeed, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi jumped to Hanson's defence, telling reporters, "Guys, there’s nothing here."

Bell tied up his yarn with a nice flourish, describing how he and the former police chief were asked to move along by a mall security guard because they'd spent too much time in a coffee shop.

Let's give the last word on this topic to Hanson, as quoted by the columnist previously known as The Dinger: "To have people impugn your reputation and have people assume this was done in the interests of a new career after seven-and-a-half years of policing this city, it's shocking to me. … It"s hugely, hugely disappointing.'

The point of both these stories is that neither would have become a story if the PCs had remained in power.

For four decades the PCs were the ne plus ultra of power in Alberta, not to mention the sine qua non -- with all the required tools at their disposal to make matters like these two controversies disappear.

But like the Liberals in 1921, the United Farmers of Alberta in 1935, and Social Credit in 1971, the Tories are a spent force in Alberta politics, notwithstanding their nine MLAs in the Legislature.

None of those parties defeated in one of Alberta's periodic electoral upheavals ever formed a government again, and the PCs are on the same well-trod road to obscurity -- although a very different party with a similar name may eventually win in their place. (Hint: Wildrose, but not called Wildrose.)

The Conservatives spent the last decade or so of their 43-plus years in power ignoring ordinary Albertans, both as voters and as contributors. Why bother? Corporations could do the necessary heavy lifting with much less fuss and bother.

Now the PCs are paying the price for that neglect.

The party today has more than a million dollars in debt, and thanks to the NDP Government's new election financing legislation banning corporate and union donations, no way to repay it or to finance the technology necessary to fund-raise through small donations, which both the Opposition Wildrose and governing New Democrats are adept at doing.

It's not even clear if companies that provided paid services to the PCs can forgive the party's debts without making an illegal corporate donation under the what’s officially called An Act to Renew Democracy in Alberta!

Nor can the PCs just sit by passively and wait for the Dippers to mess up, as they undoubtedly will because all governing parties eventually do. That is because as a nine-member caucus in the Legislature, the obvious beneficiary of any NDP mistakes will be the Opposition Wildrose Party, saved from oblivion by former MP Brian Jean's timely arrival after the misconceived December 2014 political marriage of what turned out to be inconvenience between then premier Jim Prentice and then Opposition leader Danielle Smith.

Those are the underlying causes of the PC Party's existential crisis. The latest lawsuit and investigation are merely symptoms of its decline and disintegration, though striking ones for anyone familiar with the practice of politics in Alberta. It will likely continue apace.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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