Jason Kenney

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Coincidence? I’m starting to think not.

Three times since December 2014, conservatives in Alberta are known to have tried to subvert the normal democratic process by what amount to stealthy palace coups to destroy or take over another political party.

First came the attempt said to have been orchestrated by Preston Manning in December 2014 to push the Wildrose Opposition led by Danielle Smith into Premier Jim Prentice’s governing Progressive Conservative caucus.

Next came the ham-handed effort by Rosehip Tea Party agitator George Clark’s rightward fringe of the province’s conservative movement to first join and then take over the NDP before its annual general meeting, a plot that came to be mockingly known as the #Kudatah.

Then came the effort this spring reported by the media to involve supporters of Alberta Can’t Wait, a unite-the-right group associated with Manning, to pack the Alberta Party’s AGM with new members, take over the party, and grab its valuable name as a prize of ideological war.

The first scheme — reminiscent of the way Manning and his advisors engineered the takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada by his Reform Party back in 2003, when it was known as the Canadian Alliance — fell apart when the plotters failed to anticipate the hostile reaction of the Wildrose base, which had spent too long being encouraged to hate the PCs.

The second was fairly easily thwarted by the NDP, which was able to identify and weed out most of the conservative infiltrators thanks partly to the fact they’d never made a donation.

The third, by the sound of it, was halted when Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark lucked out and got wind of it from a newspaper columnist and moved up the party’s AGM to early June. This may only be a reprieve, however, as the takeover conspiracy may still be percolating.

Now, as is well known, former prime minister Stephen Harper’s lieutenant in Ottawa, Jason Kenney, proposes to do essentially the same thing twice more.

To his credit, I suppose, Kenney has been quite open this time about the plan, first to snatch the PC Party from its traditional big-tent conservative supporters despite his reputation as a Wildroser at the provincial level, then to use it to take over the Wildrose Party in a rare double reverse hostile takeover.

As has been pointed out by many commentators, this plan is not guaranteed to work, but it has big money behind it and Kenney has already proved he is willing to campaign in violation of Alberta’s election spending laws by pretending not to be a candidate yet for the job he’s openly seeking. I leave it to readers to decide on the ethics of that decision.

He has been endorsed by the former Conservative prime minister, Harper, and the current Conservative Opposition leader, Rona Ambrose, and many of the unite-the-right front groups set up by lobbyists with Conservative ties to push the NDP out of power, so it must be recognized that he could well succeed.

Taken together, these developments suggest two things:

First, that beguiled by the lamentable spelling of the #Kudatah crowd, many ordinary Albertans took the idea of politics by coup d’etat right here in our own peaceful corner of the world less seriously than they ought.

Second, that there is a predisposition toward covert and undemocratic machinations among many groups and individuals on the right, many of them powerful and well connected.

Regardless of how paranoid it sounds to say such a thing — I can anticipate the trolls advising me to put on my tinfoil hat — five attempted coups against Alberta political parties in the space of a year and half strongly suggests we are witnessing a real phenomenon.

This is an actual modus operandi that speaks to a serious level of contempt for the democratic process, and, it is said here, it is a troubling trend unique in Canadian political history. Citizens concerned about safeguarding democracy in other parts of Canada may want to keep their eyes peeled for this kind of thing too.

Of course, there are also conservatives predisposed to using traditional Canadian democratic means to achieve their goals. But they are the very people Harper, the Lord Voledemort of Canadian politics, purged from the federal Conservative Party, leaving them with precious little influence at the national level. Kenney continues to vilify them today, as in his broadsides at former PC prime minister Joe Clark, who like NDP Premier Rachel Notley is a real born-and-raised Albertan.

Perhaps if the so called “Red Tories” were still around the federal party, they could exert some influence against this kind of disreputable scheming, most of which has involved figures associated with the Conservative Party of Canada after its takeover by the Reform-Alliance Axis.

Such people still exist in the Alberta PCs — the names of Sandra Jansen and Thomas Lukaszuk are often named nowadays, and former premier Ed Stelmach is one too. But they will not have much influence for long if the schemers from the former federal government have their way with their party. 

Even if they manage to hang on, as Lukaszuk observed recently, “it forces political parties to be on the defensive instead of developing policies and alternatives for the benefit of Albertans.”

That’s likely the idea, especially when it comes to voters on the right side of the political spectrum.

The core beliefs of Kenney, Harper and Manning, to name three of the most prominent examples, are becoming too extreme for the average Alberta voter if they are not already. So the only way to capture center-right votes for their radical vision of society is to deny more moderate voices on the right the political space to offer competing visions.

We have already seen this happen with the Republican Party south of the Medicine Line, where the three amigos mentioned above draw so much of their inspiration.

If this still sounds unlikely, dear readers, I can only refer you of the famous observation of the English author Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond series: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.”

… And five times?

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

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David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...