Brian Jean does a news conference in his days as Wildrose Party leader. Image credit: David J. Climenhaga

Can it really be true Brian Jean, who once thought he had a pretty good chance of occupying the Alberta premier’s office as leader of the Wildrose Party, is quietly negotiating to lead the Alberta Party?

With John F. Kennedy’s caveat that where there’s smoke, there’s usually a smoke-making machine, that’s the grist the Alberta political rumour mill was trying to grind last night, at least according to a former Alberta deputy premier.

The Alberta Party’s deadline for leadership candidates is at the end of this month, Thomas Lukaszuk reminded tout le monde political Alberta in a tweet, and so far no one’s applied for the job. Will the former Fort McMurry MP and Wildrose leader from 2015 to 2017 enter the race as rumoured, he asked. “Allegedly discussions are taking place.”

The problem may be that Jean hasn’t been an Alberta Party member long enough to be a leadership candidate. He is said to be seeking an exemption.

Lukaszuk was deputy premier to Alison Redford, who wasn’t the last Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta, but might as well have been.

I’ve always thought of the Alberta Party as a political party in search of an idea. Never having actually found one, despite being loved by the media for some reason, it’s failed year after year to crawl very far onto the province’s political radar.

If this rumour is true, a more apt description might be that it’s only a name in pursuit of a party. A party of one.

Jean’s continued ambition and his resentment at United Conservative Party Leader and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney for the questionable way he won the UCP leadership contest in the fall of 2017 have been obvious for months. Mostly, it’s been expressed in the form of cranky social media posts.

The Alberta Party tried to be the party of one once before, of course, with former Edmonton mayor and Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Stephen Mandel as its leader, and that didn’t work out very well. That is, unless you’re one of those tempted by the theory that Mandel was the kamikaze candidate of the 2019 provincial election, drafted to lead the Alberta Party to steal progressive Conservative votes from the NDP in Edmonton. I don’t buy this, by the way. I mention it only to forestall the inevitable commenter telling me I’ve missed the real story.

If Jean does emerge as the next leader of the Alberta Party — which began as a right-wing fringe separatist party, morphed into a vehicle for disillusioned Alberta Liberals looking for a way to repair their party’s damaged brand, then became an effort to create a new home for Red Tories — it will have gone full circle back to a fringe party with a great name.

Nothing would please me more than to see a new conservative party with enough appeal to split the right-wing vote and restore Rachel Notley and the NDP to power. That would be great for Alberta.

But readers will have to forgive me if I say I doubt that Jean, who is a nice enough person but a deep well of bad ideas, has either the charisma or the strategic chops to make it happen.

He may look a little like a grown-up Dennis the Menace, which might not be a bad place from which to launch a successful political campaign, but the cartoon character he actually resembles most is Charlie Brown.

In any campaign, Jean would certainly be reminded by the UCP how once upon a time he campaigned that the Wildrose and PC parties must, simply must, be united to keep the socialist hordes from the gates.

In due time the hordes were elected and turned out to be not even remotely socialist, despite a lot of rhetoric to the contrary from the conservatives nostalgic for the era of Joe McCarthy, and capable of running the place pretty well, notwithstanding the slump in oil prices.

That is increasingly evident as Alberta suffers under Jason Kenney’s ongoing UCP gong show. If Kenney leaves office any time soon, either at the prompting of his own party or by the judgment of voters delivered in 2023, it will most likely be due to his own failings as leader and not anything Jean manages to do that makes it happen.

The last Alberta Party leader worth listening to in your blogger’s opinion was Sue Huff, acting leader in 2010, who brought her guitar to a party convention and sang Somewhere Over the Rainbow in a very sweet voice. I did not make that up. I was there and I heard her sing. I have photos.

If the Alberta Party wants to get to the end of the rainbow, it is said here, Brian Jean is not the man to take them there.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image credit: David J. Climenhaga

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...