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Jason Kenney's sleazy campaign tactics, explained: He's rolling the dice on a first-ballot win

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Image: Flickr/mostlyconservative

If you're surprised by reports Jason Kenney’s Progressive Conservative leadership campaign is treating the rules of the party he wants to lead with contempt, you haven't really been paying attention.

The behaviour that resulted in PC Party officials -- who more than anything else want to be able to present a happy and unified PC face to the province -- publicly levying a $5,000 fine against the former Harper cabinet minister's campaign is intrinsic to this effort to "unite the right."

Remember, this is a group that as a first step proposes to destroy the party they're campaigning to lead -- something traditional PC supporters are bound to view with disquiet -- and then merge it into another more radical party that many of the same long-time PCs actively dislike and distrust.

To succeed with a scheme this bold, they need to inject their supporters into the party in sufficient numbers to overcome natural resistance -- so it makes sense to strike fast and hard to roll up constituency association delegate votes as quickly as possible.

To such a mentality, it was worth the risk to have Kenney show up at the delegate selection meeting Nov. 16 in the Edmonton-Ellerslie riding despite the common-sense ban on all leadership candidates being there. After all, with a half million dollars of unaccounted-for money in the campaign slush fund, a $5,000 fine is a picayune sum.

Well, on Nov. 16 it didn't quite work -- in addition to the fine, the results of the vote were set aside and it will be held again at a date to be determined -- but the probability is high the same people will try the same sort of thing again.

The reason is simple: The Kenney brain trust understands that they probably have only one chance to put their plan into action before the true PC base starts to send out antibodies that will coalesce around one of the three remaining candidates who want to preserve the party in its traditional form.

Remember, it's a bit misleading to call this a "unite the right" campaign, as Kenney does. It's about uniting the right, alright, but only in a way that drives from the party the centrist Tories who have been the heart of the PCs since Peter Lougheed was elected premier in 1971. And it's about doing that in a way that ensures Alberta voters inclined to vote conservatively have no more moderate conservative alternative to support.

In other words, they understand they have to win on the first ballot at the PC leadership convention on March 18 in Calgary, or they likely will not win at all. And we are talking about ruthless political operatives like former prime minister Stephen Harper, former Reform Party leader Preston Manning and, by the sound of his commentary at the start of the leadership campaign, former Harper strategist Tom Flanagan.

That is why the Kenney forces worked so hard to push out Sandra Jansen and Donna Kennedy-Glans. The two women both articulated a more progressive and traditional vision of the party's future, and were probably acceptable to one another's supporters. Therefore, they presented the most serious threat to Kenney's forces. Accordingly, they had to go.

And that is why a pattern is emerging in which Kenney's campaign is prepared to bend or break the rules -- or, as some party members are more forthrightly calling it, to cheat -- in order to win on the first ballot.

In addition to Edmonton-Ellerslie and the successful campaign to drive our Jansen and Kennedy-Glans, there are reports of the same kind of shenanigans in the Spruce Grove-St. Albert riding, where a local newspaper reported Kenney's supporters handed out a list of preferred delegates. The St. Albert Gazette quotes party officials saying that matter is being investigated too, so perhaps there will be another quite affordable $5,000 fine.

Also under investigation are the accusations of harassment and intimidation levelled by Jansen, a 30-year PC member. But it's reasonable to assume that now that she has crossed the floor of the Legislature to join the NDP, there will be little pressure to follow up.

Then there was the coup at the meeting of the PC Youth wing during the PC policy convention in Red Deer on Nov. 6 -- with busloads of students from an unnamed Christian school brought in to take over the PC Youth Association (and its delegate votes), pose for a selfie with Harper and then be whisked back whence they came. There is nothing former PCYA enthusiasts can do but cry on their pillows.

Add in the reported threats to federal Conservative MPs unenthusiastic about joining the PCs and backing Kenney if they hope for a future nomination, and you have five examples of unethical or rule-breaking behaviour by the Kenney campaign.

Once may be happenstance and twice coincidence. But, to paraphrase James Bond's creator Ian Fleming, five times is plenty of evidence of enemy action!

Some of the stuff they're up to is so over the top that well-mannered candidates Stephen Khan and Richard Starke are expressing their shock aloud.

"Mr. Kenney and his team demonstrate that arrogant, divisive, old-school style of politics, a style of politics that Albertans in 2015 told us they were done with," the gentlemanly Khan bitterly told the CBC.

"Mr. Kenney is a career politician, he knows full well that you can't campaign in, near or around a polling station," the usually diplomatic Starke said in the same story.

Both Starke and Khan have reputations for being nice guys. But as far as the Kenney campaign is concerned, obviously, nice guys finish last. They're likely right.

This day in history: the death of JFK

Today is the 53rd anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and, yes, I remember clearly where I was when I received the terrible news. It was and is a big deal, for Canadians as well as Americans. JFK's death was a national tragedy in our mighty but in many ways still innocent next door neighbour that led inexorably down a path of political cynicism and disillusionment to America's present sorry state.

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

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Image: Flickr/mostlyconservative

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