Ric McIver

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Up to now, Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership candidate Ric McIver has quite successfully flown under the radar about his ideological beliefs.

Indeed, very little has been written about what makes McIver tick — and almost nothing at all about what he believes, and therefore what he would do in office.

His official biography is uninformative, as is his Wikipedia entry. Neither provides any hint about his economic or philosophical views beyond his party affiliation — and since the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta remains a pretty big tent, even if it’s driven by its right wing, that could be pretty much anything.

His campaign website used to say nothing because he wasn’t officially a candidate. Now that he is, about all it says is “website development is under way. We will have lots of news and information to add to the website in the coming days and weeks, so please check back here often.” It’s said that for a few days now. In the meantime, it says, they’d love to have you sign up for email. Oh, and there’s a slogan: “Common sense. New thinking.”

There are only few tantalizing hints out there about there about McIver’s ideological beliefs.

It’s said here this suits McIver, 55, because he’s much farther to the right than most Albertans would be comfortable with. Yes, he’s got a vague reputation as a hard-nosed conservative, no Red Tory, but that’s just code for “businesslike” in most circles in Alberta nowadays.

Ditto for his reputation when he was a Calgary alderman as the “Dr. No” of city council, in other words, the guy who could be depended upon to argue against expensive projects other councillors enthusiastically supported. Municipal politicians who have worked with him as infrastructure minister describe him as no-nonsense and decisive, but no visionary.

There seem to be only two news stories that contain basic biographical information like where he was born (Woodstock, Ontario), what he studied after high school (he didn’t go to university but attended the traditional School of Hard Knocks) and where he worked and what he worked at before entering politics (as a meat cutter and salesman for Schneider’s Meats, Armstrong Cheese, Scott National and Fleetwood Sausage, and eventually himself).

The first appeared in Calgary’s FFWD arts magazine a few days before the 2010 civic election in which he ran for mayor, was widely seen as the front-runner and lost to the much more liberal Naheed Nenshi. It was after that that McIver turned his sights on provincial politics, running for Alison Redford’s PC Party in the 2012 general election in the Calgary riding of Calgary-Hays. The second, a worshipful hagiography, appeared in the Calgary Sun last week.

But you can’t start Googling McIver without coming across traces of his loony-right connections, in particular with Craig B. Chandler’s so-called Progressive Group for Independent Business.

He also, interestingly, received substantial donations during his run for mayor of Calgary from developer Cal Wenzel and Wenzel’s company, Shane Homes, as well as a contribution from another member of the developer’s family. It has been plausibly suggested that McIver’s loss to Mayor Nenshi played a role in Wenzel’s decision to donate $100,000 to the Manning Centre to train and assist candidates more likely to “roll our way,” and to persuade 10 more developers to make similar donations.

But it is McIver’s connection with Chandler and the PGIB that is troubling.

Chandler, the founder and current executive-director of the PGIB, is so far to the right that the Wildrose Party recently told him to get lost. That likely had more to do with Chandler’s views on gay rights (he’s vociferously against them) and the party’s sensitivities about that issue than where he places himself in the economic spectrum.

In 2007, he won the Progressive Conservative nomination in Calgary Egmont, but that was overturned by the party’s executive, with Premier Ed Stelmach explaining Chandler’s candidacy was “not in the best interests of the party.” As far as I know, Chandler is still seeking the PC nomination in the Calgary Shaw riding for the upcoming election.

Notwithstanding McIver’s stealthy flight on this issue, there seem to be just too many references to his connections with the PGIB to have all been flushed down the Memory Hole.

So what’s the deal? On its website, the PGIB lists getting McIver elected as an alderman “in a PGIB managed campaign” as one of its big successes — Nenshi once sniffed that McIver was the only person the PGIB ever got elected.

On the same page, PGIB bragged that it was the “first group in Canada to put right-to-work in the forefront in politics.” It is unknown what McIver’s views about this kind of crude anti-union legislation might be, beyond his connection with the PGIB. Presumably, that is because he has never said.

He was also given an award by the PGIB for his work on Calgary City Council, although the group’s website does not say when.

McIver also appears to have worked for the PGIB for a spell, and was its “municipal chairman” before he was elected alderman. He was a member of the PGIB’s executive before 2001. (It’s not clear from the news story that mentions this if these were the same position, or different jobs.) He told FFWD in 2009 that he’d “separated” from the group, whatever that means. (The PGIB’s website, however, still quotes him saying, “I am a proud member of the PGIB.”)

What did he do there? Asked the same question by FFWD in 2009, McIver responded: “You know what? It’s so long ago I just don’t remember.”

That answer may have been acceptable in 2009, when he was just thinking about running for mayor of Calgary. It’s not good enough in 2014 when he’s running for the top political job in the province of Alberta.

He needs to go back and check his files to see what he was doing if he can’t recall.

The problem is, PGIB is not just a fairly radical organization based on the right-wing economic positions it takes, it is also inevitably strongly tied to its founder’s extreme social conservative views, which would place it far out on the right-wing fringe anywhere in North America, especially on the topic of LGBTIQ rights.

Among the policies currently listed on the PGIB’s website now are the following:

–    Elimination of government-funded multiculturalism

–    Elimination of Human Rights Commissions and Tribunals

–    Elimination of “forced bilingualism”

–    Elimination of employment equity laws and programs

–    Requirement for a referendum before taxes can be raised

–    “Workfare” programs to replace social assistance

–    Adopting anti-union “right-to-work” legislation

–    Privatization of the Workers Compensation Board

–    Limitations on First Nations’ sovereignty

–    No improvements in Canada Pension Plan

–    Wide-open U.S.-style firearms ownership

–    Opposition to the Kyoto Accord

–    Privatization of city utilities

–    Elimination of regional boards

The items emphasized in italics are known to be used frequently as code for opposition to LGBTIQ rights.

As a result of his connection with this organization, whether or not he is still a member, McIver has a number of questions he needs to answer forthrightly and clearly. Among them:

–    What did he do when he worked for the PGIB?

–    Is he still a member of the PGIB?

–    Does he support the PGIB’s policies? If not all, which ones?

–    In particular, because of his history with the PGIB and Chandler, where does he stand on LGBTIQ rights?

–    Does he support right-to-work legislation?

–    Would he privatize the Workers Compensation Board?

We await McIver’s answers, if any, with great interest.

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...