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Fear and loathing on the campaign trail with Jason Kenney: The strange case of the Boys on the Bible Buses

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Jason Kenney & Stephen Harper

Today is the deadline for new entries into the Progressive Conservative Party leadership race, and you have to ask: is the party executive now working directly for the Jason Kenney campaign?

It certainly seems so when you consider the strange affair of the Boys on the Bible Buses at last weekend's PC policy conference in Red Deer, not to mention the harassment of at least one female candidate by Kenney's supporters during the meeting.

While Kenney's minions were yelling at Sandra Jansen in the hallways of the Red Deer hotel where the conference took place, the now-famous busloads of mysterious Bible school students were showing up at the convention to execute a takeover of the PC youth wing for Kenney's campaign.

As the CBC explained it in its coverage of the conservative kiddie coup, the four buses of young Kenney supporters arrived on Saturday. "The young men and women, many in their teens, were led to a room where they could take pictures with former prime minister Stephen Harper. The youth were then directed to the room where the annual general meeting for the PC Youth Association was taking place."

The reason for the visitation? The PCYA appoints 20 of the delegates who get to vote for the next leader at the party's convention in March 2017, the CBC explained.

No one seems to know exactly who these mysterious young people were. An unconfirmed rumour circulating online last night suggests they're from one of the religious schools that refuses to obey the government's policy on gay-straight alliances -- a drama in which Kenney's campaign appears to be pulling the strings.

Donna Kennedy-Glans, who with Jansen dropped out of the leadership race on Tuesday, complained about the bus voters -- but failed to arouse any interest among the members of the party executive.

Now, here's the thing. None of the young bus people -- whoever they were -- were PC Party members until their buses pulled up at the door.

So, under the PC Party's own rules -- based on a resolution party members insist was properly passed as required by the party's constitution -- you can't vote at a PC meeting unless you've been a member for seven days. None of the young bus people had been, as they were signed up at the door.

After this -- and presumably after the protest by Kennedy-Glans noted by the CBC -- I am informed the PC executive met and decided not to enforce the constitutional rule.

In other words, Kenney's supporters now appear to be in control of the party executive. Leastways, the executive is acting as if that's the case. Given that, one wonders why they'd bother with the expense and inconvenience of a leadership convention.

As for Jansen and Kennedy-Glans dropping out, the party executive appears to be completely unconcerned.

Whatever the circumstances that led to their decisions, it is clear Kenney campaign -- backed by the likes of former prime minister Stephen Harper and former Reform Party leader Preston Manning -- wanted them gone. Otherwise, they could have potentially pooled their support for a more progressive alternative on a second ballot at the March leadership convention.

Alberta premier Rachel Notley may think, as she said yesterday, that "if a party or a campaign cannot conduct itself in a way to ensure the most basic of rules around inclusivity, for instance, anti-harassment, then quite frankly that party or that campaign is not equipped to govern the province." But important people in the PC Party, by the sound of it, do not agree or care.

In a Facebook post last night, former deputy premier and 2014 leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk lamented the way Jansen and Kennedy-Glans were driven out of the race. "I know both of these women. I worked with them. They are brilliant, resilient and politically experienced. I know that they entered the race with full intentions to compete; they had the resources, and I know that it must have taken a lot for them to withdraw."

"Both of the silenced candidates were bringing policy options and alternative perspectives that Albertans deserved to hear," Lukaszuk wrote. "However, with the two candidates pushed out and with (today's) deadline for new candidate entries, the PC race is set to proceed without any female representation and under a cloud of controversy."

To restore faith in the process, Lukaszuk called on the executive to immediately suspend the deadline for new candidate entries while it investigates the candidates’ allegations.

Don't expect this to happen.

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

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