Ric McIver

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Ric McIver has destroyed the great opportunity he was handed by fate and bumbling premier Jim Prentice one year ago: to go down in history as the person who led the once-mighty Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta back from the brink.

Instead, if he hasn’t now pushed the party over the precipice, and that is quite possible, he has certainly badly damaged his own political career.

It is highly ironic that the agent of all this destruction was not the New Democratic Party of Premier Rachel Notley, which unexpectedly swept to a majority government in the provincial election one year ago next Tuesday, but an irrelevant loudmouth extremist on the furthest fringes of Alberta’s conservative movement.

But for all his many obvious faults, let no one say Craig Chandler brought McIver down. No, the interim PC Leader — who was handed the crucial interim post in the hours after Prentice led the party to defeat through a combination of arrogance and impatience — has accomplished this all on his own.

All Chandler did was provide McIver with the opportunity to demonstrate how bad his judgment is.

Chandler is well known in Alberta as a man of intemperate views. He is vociferously hostile the idea of gay rights. He loudly proclaims the view that Christians are persecuted in Canada. He famously told newcomers from his natal province of Ontario that if they wanted to live in Alberta they “must adapt to our rules and our voting patterns, or leave.” Asking him be quiet is like telling a bad dog to stop barking. As a consequence, no one takes him very seriously.

Yet, just three weeks ago, Chandler was acclaimed to a symbolically important job as one of the party’s regional directors in Calgary.

That was the moment McIver could and should have proved he was a leader with good judgment and insisted Chandler was not an appropriate officer of a conservative party that hoped to win the space between the New Democrats on the centre left and the Wildrose Opposition on the further right.

Arguably, it is the wish of a significant number of Alberta voters for a potential governing party in just that space that has kept the Tories in the game, despite Prentice’s catastrophic performance on May 5 last year.

If McIver had done what former Conservative premier Ed Stelmach had the courage to do in 2007 and former Wildrose leader Danielle Smith showed the leadership to do in 2014 and sent Chandler and his extremist opinions packing, the current PC leader would not have found himself in the embarrassing spot he occupies today.

Instead, McIver let Chandler stay — possibly because he didn’t have the heart to cashier someone who once helped him get elected, or maybe because he privately agrees with many of Chandler’s way-out opinions.

Regardless, it was a grave error of judgment. Chandler was guaranteed to cause trouble for the PCs, as anyone who has watched the man in action could have told you. Indeed, I did! As was stated in this space on April 6, “Chandler’s sincerely held but extreme social conservative views are bound to embarrass the party, especially if it has hopes of appealing to voters a little closer to the centre than those who support the Wildrose Opposition.”

Now, in the midst of what is certain to be a short-lived and meaningless controversy about a restaurant chain’s decision to buy hormone- and antibiotic-free meat from a slaughterhouse in the United States, Chandler has done precisely that.

McIver exercised poor judgment in the Earls Restaurant brouhaha too by calling in a Tweet for a boycott of the restaurant chain before, presumably, all the facts were in. If the boycott worked — and it probably won’t — unemployed Earls employees would be right to blame McIver for costing them their jobs in a tough economy.

Chandler, of course, is drawn to controversy like a moth to a flame, and was soon bloviating on the sanctity of Alberta beef on social media.

It didn’t take him long to opine on his Facebook account that, since the Kansas packing house that will provide Earls’s beef also offers a halal certified product slaughtered in accordance with Islamic food rules, “now Earls supports terrorists as well!”

This is the sort of jaw-dropping idiocy Chandler comes up with regularly — usually, as in this case, followed by a sly claim that what he said has been misinterpreted.

Needless to say, this nonsense caused an uproar. But instead of firing Chandler on the spot, as McIver should have, the PC leader appears to have waffled, saying and doing nothing.

Eventually, Chandler resigned, insisting characteristically in a Facebook post he was misunderstood and self-righteously claiming, “I really don’t want to be a distraction to the party.”

No doubt stories will be planted by McIver’s allies that Chandler was pushed out behind the scenes, but this means nothing. McIver said nothing and now he must wear Chandler’s ignorance and bigotry forever.

This is not McIver’s first error in judgment of this sort, but it really should be his last. If he had the good of his party at heart, he would voluntarily return to the backbenches, such as they are in a Legislative caucus of nine, posthaste.

PCs concerned about the fate of their party can take comfort at least from this: when they elected Prentice back on Sept. 6, 2014, they didn’t make the worst possible choice.

You’ve got to admit, though, that from the perspective of history Thomas Lukaszuk, the third candidate in the 2014 leadership race, is starting to look pretty good! Leastways, you have to ask, how could he have done worse?

The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on. Anything can happen in politics, but it’s hard to imagine that McIver isn’t finished.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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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...