Alberta Justice Minister Alison Redford

It’s time for Gary Mar and Alison Redford to fish or cut bait.

That is, it’s time for Mar and Redford either to announce they are candidates for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party or to inform the public they are not.

If they are going to run, taking this advice will help their campaigns and help any eventual victor win the election that will follow the leadership campaign as surely as darkness follows sunset. If they are not going to run, this advice will improve their chances of success at whatever else they decide to do.

However, the need for both of them to clearly state their intentions is greatest if they plan to run.

Whoever wins the Tory leadership contest will become the premier of Alberta, at least for a spell and quite possibly for a long time. So the stakes are high, both for the candidates and for everyone else who lives in this province.

Up to now, it’s been reasonable for these two candidates — both of whom are credible and have a real chance of winning — to bide their time while they consider their strategies, line up supporters and hire campaign staff.

But to turn on its head Lyndon Johnson’s observation, when he was a U.S. Senator, about then vice-president Richard Nixon: In politics, chicken salad can turn into chicken — something else — overnight!

Redford and Mar have now reached that point where their political chicken is in danger of going seriously bad if they don’t say something definitive soon.

Each day things will look worse for an undeclared candidate who appears to be campaigning from the position of a comfortable taxpayer-supported job or a high-profile position in Cabinet. It barely looks OK now. It’ll look bad soon. It’ll look bloody awful in a week or two!

Mar is a charismatic and intelligent former member of Ralph Klein’s cabinet who held a passel of important cabinet portfolios — intergovernmental affairs, health, education, environment and community development.

The 48-year-old Calgary-born lawyer is known to have done some serious fund raising and since September 2007 has served as the high-profile “Alberta Envoy” in Washington D.C. As an active member of Calgary’s Chinese community and a member of the Conservative Party’s ideologically moderate wing, he would make an excellent contrast to the hard-right Wildrose Alliance’s engaging but doctrinaire leader, Danielle Smith, who is 40.

He makes an even better contrast to the Smith’s ideological clone, the 61-year-old market fundamentalist former University of Calgary professor, Ted Morton. The MLA for Foothills-Rocky View is running to turn the Conservative Party into the Wildrose Alliance. If he succeeds at that, he will want to reunite the two in a more-radical party positioned much farther to the right. This strategy would mirror the hostile takeover of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada by the Reform Party, resulting in the so-called Conservative Party of Canada, in 2003.

But Mar can’t succeed from his well-compensated perch in Washington. If he is going to make a serious run, he needs to stop being Alberta’s man on the Potomac post-haste. Anyway, since a new premier can and probably will appoint her or his own U.S. envoy, it’s not like he’s keeping his options open by staying.

The brainy Redford, 45, is a lawyer with an long list of academic and international credentials. As MLA for Calgary-Elbow, she holds the important Justice portfolio in Premier Ed Stelmach’s cabinet.

Redford is said to be wavering on whether or not to run. If this is true and she decides not to run, it will be a pity, because she’s another impressive candidate. On top of her law degree and a stellar list of achievements, Redford was born in Kitimat, B.C. — which really ought to be worth something, if only because it’s a reminder to the rest of us that, there but by grace came we!

Like Mar, she comes from the pragmatic, centrist, non-ideological sector of the Conservative party. For similar reasons, she would also provide a great contrast to Smith and to Morton.

But as is the case with Mar, she now needs to take the advice cynically spouted by the Wildrose Alliance and more positively offered by her own premier and step down from cabinet so that it doesn’t look as if she’s using her position to campaign.

Like Morton, who resigned his portfolio on Jan. 27, and former deputy premier Doug Horner, who resigned his cabinet posts Feb. 4, she could remain an MLA without compromise while she pursued the leadership.

With Conservative party members apparently leaning toward a candidate from Calgary, and with polls now indicating increasing wariness by Albertans of the far-right nostrums proposed by Smith and Morton, either Redford or Mar could beat their far-right challengers — first in the leadership contest and then in a general election.

But if they want to succeed, the time has come for both to make the call or get out of the phone booth!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

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...