Lee Richardson

You have to ask yourself: Is this all democracy in Alberta comes down to?

As even those of our compatriots who don’t reside here in Wild Rose Country know, the Conservative Party nomination meeting is generally the sole democratic moment here in this petroleum-rich third of the Canadian Great Plains.

With one or two noble exceptions, once the Tory candidate is chosen in an Alberta riding, the voters troop out and vote for him (or her) with metronomic predictability. We pay for this habit dearly, it is said here, in the often-appalling quality of our local representation in Ottawa.

So it is worth looking at this transitory democratic impulse through the lens of the as-yet-to-be-called by-election to replace departed Calgary Centre MP Lee Richardson, a rare Red Tory who announced back in May he was getting out of Dodge-City-Upon-the-Rideau to pursue a new career a lot like his old career, this time as “principal secretary” to Alberta Premier Alison Redford.

This is a riding, for heaven’s sake, where the local media treats the election of a Progressive Conservative former prime minister in 2000 as evidence of a dangerous tendency, mercifully rare, toward galloping liberality!

This flash in the democratic pan, then, must be the race for the nomination to carry the Conservative colours (black and blue?) in the by-election, whenever Prime Minister Stephen Harper gets around to calling it. (No hurry, natch, as he’s already got his comfy majority in the Houses o’ Parliament.)

The nomination contest was announced during the Calgary Stampede back in July, when the entire population of Cowtown was busy thinking about which faux cowpoke duds to pull out of the civic Tickle Trunk.

The riding association stopped accepting nomination papers late on the Thursday before the August long weekend. That event was followed by a full week of steely silence while, presumably, Calgary Centre Conservative Party (CCCP) officials pored over the nominees’ papers looking for hints of ideological irregularities or other inclinations toward market heresy. (This observation may be quite unfair. It’s also possible the constituency association merely wished to demonstrate its contempt for ordinary voters and the media.)

The announcement was finally made yesterday, on the Friday before another hot August weekend.

As was speculated earlier in this space, there will be six candidates:

–    Richard Billington, a well-connected Tory lawyer who has served as a party official

–    Joan Crockatt, a journalist and commentator known for her right-wing views

–    John Lord, a businessman successful in the past in municipal and provincial politics

–    Greg McLean, a former young Conservative leader, no longer so young

–    Joe Soares, a resident of Quebec with an ill-defined past connection to the Prime Minister’s Office

–    Stefan Spargo, who flies an Alberta flag over his house

This supreme moment of Alberta democracy will take place on Saturday, Aug. 25 — the second-to-last weekend before the onset of the school year. There will be a single all-candidates’ forum on Friday, Aug. 24.

The crucial nomination vote, we are told, will be conducted among 1,850 eligible party members. Remember, the riding has a population of close to 130,000 souls, of whom about 89,000 will be eligible to vote in the actual by-election. In other words, 2 per cent of the electorate will likely make the decision that counts.

So what does all this — other than the identities of the approved candidates — tell us about this vital moment of pure Alberta democracy?

That it’s pretty much an insider affair, that’s what.

Count on it that many of the small number of eligible party members — especially Tory-come-latelies among riding residents signed by the two most enthusiastic candidates, Crockatt and Lord — will be away for the weekend, especially if the sun is shining.

Not being a Conservative, I can’t really say, but this whole thing has a whiff of closed-door politics about it. On the face of it, Crockatt would still appear be the front-runner, with Lord right on her heels. Both have certainly been campaigning hard, selling memberships in the riding’s neighbourhoods.

But remember, Billington boasts he is a member of the Conservative Party’s National Policy Committee and a board member in Prime Minister Harper’s riding, so if anyone is likely to be a recipient of the insider edge, it would seem to be him — unless (very scary thought) it’s the intemperate Soares of Gatineau, the Candidate Who Most Hates the NDP.

Still, if that’s the insider plan, and if the sun don’t shine, a little spice is added to this race by the possibility either Crockatt or Lord may have sold enough memberships to upset Billington’s apple cart.

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...