Here comes the leader of the One True Conservative Party!
Here comes the leader of the other One True Conservative Party!
Actually, there are three One True Conservative parties in Alberta nowadays. Maybe more if you don’t blink. But there are three that have the potential to play a consequential role in the next general election, which is expected to take place next year.
Anyway, the leaders of two of them — the two that don’t stand any chance of actually forming government — were in the news this weekend, and you know what they say about vices … two outta three ain’t bad!
Let’s start with the one that’s likely to be the least consequential and then move to the one that’s not likely to be very consequential, shall we?
Derek Fildebrandt — Freedom Conservative Party
Derek Fildebrandt, once the official Angry Young Man of the Alberta conservative movement, is now officially the leader of the Freedom Conservative Party.
The Freedom Conservative Party used to be the Separation Party of Alberta, but it isn’t any more. Never mind what you read in the mainstream media, the FCP wasn’t created by the former Wildrose Party and United Conservative Party MLA for Strathmore-Brooks and Canadian Taxpayers Federation apparatchik.
It should probably be called the Fildebrandt Conservative Party, although it will likely have a couple of other candidates, former Green leader and Wildroser Joe Anglin for one.
Aside from their interest in the FCP, Anglin, 63, and Fildebrandt, 33, have two other things in common — they’re both highly entertaining politicians who don’t really play very well with others.
Once upon a time, Fildebrandt was a young fellow with a future in Wildrose Party. Then Wildrose leader Brian Jean tried to fire him for being disruptive and embarrassing. The leader got shouted down and Fildebrandt got to stay on as Opposition finance critic. There was talk he was a serious candidate for the leadership of the UCP, the third One True Conservative Party mentioned above.
Alas, a series of self-inflicted political calamities derailed his progress, and probably his career. There was the Airbnb rental of his taxpayer subsidized Edmonton condo, a crash and a fine for leaving the scene of an accident in the same condo’s parking lot, and an illegal hunting charge. Within hours of pleading guilty to the hunting infraction, Fildebrandt was sent down to the lonely Independent benches of the Legislature by UCP Leader Jason Kenney.
Fildebrandt suggests the real reason was something else — Kenney’s preference for UCP Deputy Leader Leela Aheer as the party’s candidate in the newly redrawn Chestermere-Brooks Riding, parts of which both MLAs represent at the moment. This seems fanciful.
At any rate, on Saturday Fildebrandt was acclaimed the leader of the FCP, which now represents the far right wing of Alberta’s One True Conservative parties. It’s telling no one else wanted the job.
Fildebrandt and some supporters met in a Calgary pub and declared their sentiments in grand speeches. However, while he will provide some light entertainment, his and his party’s chances of success in the next election are negligible.
Still, history warns us to pay attention to far right politicians who get their start in beer halls, not that I’m suggesting anything. More likely, after losing whatever provincial seat he runs for in 2019, Fildebrandt will run federally for Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, after which he will go home to Ontario.
Stephen Mandel — Alberta Party
Stephen Mandel — back in the day a successful mayor of Edmonton and minister of health in premier Jim Prentice’s cabinet before and after being elected MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud — has been the leader of the Alberta Party since February.
The Alberta Party was founded in 1985 as yet another right-wing fringe party, albeit one with a better name than usual. But in the late Zeroes it was taken over by disaffected Alberta Liberals persuaded their original party’s brand was permanently ruined.
Since the election of an NDP government in Alberta in 2015 and the double reverse hostile takeover and renaming of the main conservative parties by Jason Kenney, the Alberta Party has shifted shape into a vehicle for disaffected Red Tories who no longer feel welcome in the UCP.
Last year there was a little palace putsch and then-leader Greg Clark, who had a seat in the Legislature, was shoved aside to make way for Mandel, who doesn’t but has a history of not being bothered by that sort of thing. A couple of floor crossings gave the Alberta Party a caucus of three in the Legislature. And as all Alberta political observers know, small caucuses can turn into majority governments over night in this province.
The same night Fildebrandt was celebrating in a Calgary beer hall, Mandel was giving a little pep talk to a considerably larger crowd of Alberta Party members at an Edmonton convention hall.
He said some stuff that by a reasonable measure seems pretty silly, but got great coverage from media, which has always had a weird affection for the Alberta Party despite its almost inability to get on the political radar.
Example: An Alberta Party government would make the carbon tax revenue neutral and use the money raised to reduce the provincial debt. As University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe Tweeted: “I’m confused. … These are inconsistent objectives.”
Mandel did acknowledge that Alberta has a revenue problem as things stand, but like all other Alberta politicians he appears unwilling to consider a sales tax.
He also observed that if Alberta can’t get the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion project built … “we’re screwed.” This trenchant, if inaccurate, observation got the headlines.
We Albertans had better hope he’s wrong about that. Not because the pipeline won’t get built — it likely will be. But because the business case on which it is based is shaky. We’re almost certainly tied to the U.S. market whether we like it or not for our expensive to process, low-quality bitumen, and any “tidewater premium” for the stuff is probably a pipedream.
So if the pipeline can’t fix the underlying problems faced by our oilsands industry, we’re screwed anyway by Mandel’s measure.
But, whatever. … This was just an effort to whip up the party faithful, almost 500 of whom turned out, to Mandel’s credit.
While the Alberta Party like the FCP probably won’t enjoy much electoral success in 2019, it has greater potential for mischief if it can bleed off support from either the NDP or the UCP. Indeed, it could prove very influential — and yet gain absolutely nothing for itself.
Mandel will be targeting progressive Conservatives who can’t stand Kenney and who still aren’t comfortable with the NDP, despite Premier Rachel Notley’s passable imitation of PC premier Peter Lougheed.
Even though the Alberta Party has more potential for growth than the FCP, political punters are advised not to bet the family farm, or even a week’s pay, on it getting much traction in 2019.
Mandel is 73. I have been accused of ageism for suggesting this is too old to instil confidence in voters. I’m no spring chicken myself, but I’m willing to bet most voters see it this way.
Grace Thostenson appointed chair of WCB
The NDP Government has appointed respected trade unionist Grace Thostenson as chair of the Workers Compensation Board — sending a strong message the rights of injured workers really are a priority for the WCB.
Thostenson is a current member of the WCB Board. She has more than 25 years of labour relations experience in the telecommunications and electrical power industries and has been a member of the Alberta Labour Relations Board for a dozen years. She has held union positions with the United Utility Workers’ Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
Reporting to the Minister of Labour, the chair is accountable for the governance and management of the WCB’s board of directors.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.