There's no question about it: Derek Fildebrandt has slipped his leader's leash.
Fildebrandt, the Wildrose Party’s "shadow finance minister" as the Alberta Opposition pretentiously calls its legislative policy critics, has never really been what you'd call a team player.
Indeed, back in May when his social media posts started to go way over the top, Opposition Leader Brian Jean tried to fire him for an online endorsement of a homophobic slur directed at Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne … and failed.
When Fildebrandt's friends in the party screamed loud enough to make Jean back down, the former Canadian Taxpayers Federation's Alberta stunt director was able to make a deal with his leader that he’d behave himself in return for staying on the front benches. For a spell it seemed to work.
No more. As of yesterday, when the Strathmore-Brooks MLA openly defied Jean and called for an immediate merger of the province’s two right-wing political parties during an interview with a small-town radio station, Fildebrandt is officially completely out of control.
Now, everyone on the right side of the aisle in Alberta politics wants to merge the two right-wing parties -- the Wildrose Opposition and the formerly governing Progressive Conservatives, now the third party in the Legislature. They rightly see their disunity in the recent past as among the conditions that set the stage for the unexpected victory by Premier Rachel Notley's New Democrats in May 2015.
The problem is how to do it in a way that sees each major player's particular brand of conservatism emerge on top.
Former Harper Cabinet Minister Jason Kenney has a plan I've called a double reverse hostile takeover. He's running to lead the PCs. If he wins in March, he wants them to swallow the Wildrose. Then (although this part is never quite said out loud) moderate progressive Conservatives will be purged, just as they were in Ottawa by Kenney's mentor, former prime minister Stephen Harper. In other words, the Wildrose will in fact have swallowed the PCs.
Traditional big-tent Progressive Conservatives would prefer to soldier on without the radical Wildrosers in their ranks, because they fear their party would be selling its soul for a potential victory by uniting with an extremist Tea Party fringe that is so influential among the Wildrose support base.
Jean wants the Wildrose to come out on top -- but with him as the leader, not Kenney. Jean says he has a plan for a merger that’s better than Kenney's -- he just hasn't explained what it is yet.
By yesterday, the impetuous and impatient Fildebrandt -- who surely has leadership ambitions of his own -- appeared to have finally had enough. So he took to the airwaves with his unite-the-right-right-now manifesto, which in effect means he has taken Kenney's side in this Tory Family feud.
But it's been clear for a while a storm has been brewing -- at least since Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump's victory south of the Medicine Line, which a lot of extreme Alberta right-wingers like the former president of the Reagan-Goldwater Club at Ottawa's Carleton University have taken as a sure sign their star is on the rise.
For Fildebrandt's part, his social media posts have taken on a nastily aggressive tone again, and he showed up as a guest speaker at an alt-right rally last Sunday in Calgary put on by Ezra Levant's disreputable Rebel Media organization. That surely couldn’t have pleased Jean, who is trying his utmost to make his party look moderate and reasonable.
And then there was yesterday's off-the-cuff interview in Whitecourt, northwest of Edmonton, in which Fildebrandt called the NDP "too ideological, and too destructive to the future of this province to take chances for our own personal political gain." As something that sounded like an organ grinder played in the background, Fildebrandt exclaimed: "I'm willing to put everything I've accomplished in politics on the line for this."
Well, maybe that's the way he really sees it. But there’s an alternative way to spin this.
For one thing, other than getting elected in a rural riding east of Calgary and ratcheting up an increasingly tense relationship with his leader, Fildebrandt really hasn't accomplished all that much.
Despite his support from the Wildrose base, he has pretty well burned his bridges with Jean. If the Wildrose were to win government under Jean, it seems unlikely the leader would put his dangerously fractious critic in his real cabinet.
Likewise, moderate PCs don’t want Fildebrandt around -- in fact, he would serve them nicely as a way to demonstrate to urban voters they’re a saner, less extreme conservative alternative.
So Fildebrandt's only hope from the perspective of personal political gain may be to go rogue and roll the dice for a victory by Kenney, the chubby Darth Vader of Alberta politics.
Rogue One: A Right Wing Wars Story, coming to a public forum near you this week!
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
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