The surprise shouldn't be that Alberta's Wildrose Party went Full Trump at its annual general meeting in Red Deer Friday night and yesterday. It should be that anyone's surprised.
Still, mainstream media were agog at this turn of events. To give credit where credit is due, several journalists actually used the T-word to describe both Wildrose Leader Brian Jean's bleak fantasy about the state of Alberta's society as we near Halloween 2016 and the Tea Party policy prescriptions set out for his party by its members.
Nasty, nasty people, believe me! I saw it! Total disaster! We need to make Alberta great again! Bigly!
Well, those who were there (I wasn't) swear Jean never said he was going to Make Alberta Great Again or used much of the standard repertoire of Trumpisms. But his dystopic trash-talking about Alberta now that we've decided to leave the nineteenth century behind was Trumpism of the first water.
"When we look across the province in our communities, we see crime skyrocketing and poverty increasing," Jean told the party members in his address Friday night. "We see a growing number of young people being trafficked into a sex trade against their will. We see dangerous drugs like fentanyl and other opioids killing Albertans and ripping families apart. This must stop. And we continue to see the rights of criminals put above the rights of victims."
This stream of real and imagined disaster, according to Jean's worldview, is entirely the fault of Premier Rachel Notley's NDP. Plus, of course, it's also entirely the fault of Justin Trudeau's Liberals in Ottawa. Readers will get the picture.
According to the Wildrosers, though, all we need to put things right is low-to-no taxes, brutal fiscal discipline and long jail sentences for bad guys. Plus more Brad Wall, maybe, although the far-right Saskatchewan premier seems not to have figured in Jean's remarks, possibly because he seems to be endorsing former Harper cabinet member Jason Kenney's scheme to perform a double reverse hostile takeover of the Wildrose Party and the Progressive Conservatives. Kenney is running to lead the PCs just now.
This may be what led Jean to insist manfully during the AGM that support in his party for a merger with the Tories is weakening.
As for the Wildrose membership's policy prescriptions, which media seemed to forget the party caucus is not actually obliged to pay any attention to if they manage to get into power, members called for:
- Eliminating the NDP's carbon tax (and letting Trudeau decide where the money gets spent, I guess)
- Restoring Ralph Klein's regressive "flat tax"
- Making it easier for private health care, including private hospitals, to creep into the public system
- And, naturally, eliminating the NDP's farm safety legislation
How this is supposed to work with Liberals in Ottawa and much of the rest of the country itching to declare Alberta an environmental pariah is not 100-per-cent clear -- but that probably doesn't matter very much to the Wildrose base.
Jean -- who despite appearances this weekend is not a fool -- obviously understands that if he doesn't toss the membership some very red meat, someone else will. And that someone, of course, is Kenney, the spectre haunting Alberta's conservatives, who also knows the meat in question is mostly baloney.
Next weekend, it's the PCs' turn, with their own AGM in Red Deer -- which for the enlightenment of readers outside Alberta is conveniently located exactly halfway between Edmonton and Calgary.
That promises to be a more interesting event because the five declared candidates for next spring's party leadership vote are bound to use the meeting to advocate for their quite different views of the former governing party's future.
Kenney's plans for the PCs create a real threat to the party's continued existence and his vision for the party that emerges next does not include many traditional PC supporters -- who in the coming vote will have several candidates to choose from.
As for the carbon tax, three declared candidates -- MLA Sandra Jansen, former MLA Donna Kennedy-Glans, and Calgary legalist Byron Nelson -- say they support the idea, while naturally taking issue with the way the NDP is implementing it. Two, Kenney and MLA Richard Starke, say they would eliminate it.
So this suggests a glimmer of recognition of reality among at least some potential PC leaders, and probably the party's membership as well, plus real policy differences for members to work through.
If more candidates are set to join the race, they'll likely use the AGM as a springboard. They have until Nov. 10 to get their nomination papers in.
Speaking of which, a community newspaper reported yesterday that St. Albert's former PC MLA, Stephen Khan, is about to join the race -- or, leastways, that he's picked up a leadership application package and booked a room at a local golf clubhouse next Thursday evening for an undisclosed announcement.
Alberta's Legislature gets back to business Monday with a session that is expected to run until Dec. 8. It will likely to have a heavy legislative agenda, giving ambitious Opposition politicians plenty of opportunities to grandstand.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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